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Logarhythms

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Give Us Back Our Spyplane! (2008)

4.3

December 29, 2008

Tuning / Blend 3.7
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.3
Tracks
1 Jump 4.0
2 Here (In Your Arms) 4.0
3 Brighter Than Sunshine 3.3
4 Get Over It 4.3
5 Save Room 4.0
6 Frequently Baby (She's a Teenage Maniac) 4.0
7 Are You Gonna Be My Girl 4.7
8 Holiday in Spain 4.7
9 The Blower's Daughter 3.7
10 [Untitled] 3.7
11 Feel Good Inc. 4.3
12 Anna Molly 4.0
13 Hymn 4.3

Recorded 2007 – 2008
Total time: 48:59, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Jump 4
2 Here (In Your Arms) 4
3 Brighter Than Sunshine 3
4 Get Over It 4
5 Save Room 3
6 Frequently Baby (She's a Teenage Maniac) 4
7 Are You Gonna Be My Girl 4
8 Holiday in Spain 4
9 The Blower's Daughter 2
10 [Untitled] 4
11 Feel Good Inc. 5
12 Anna Molly 3
13 Hymn 3

Give Us Back Our Spyplane! nearly satisfies. The album is an energetic romp through an unusual set list, but nearly every track fights itself. Niggling flaws blemish the many moments of excellence on the album, leaving us with an album delivered under its potential.

Van Halen's Jump is the opening track and sets the album's standard. The sound production is vibrant, crisp, and energetic. The Logarhythms perform with an excitement that gets your heart beating. Several tracks blend outro to intro, which makes them feel more connected, more coherent and like an actual album. Having never heard the Logs before, my first impression was that of a nerdy version of the ‘Bubs. Rather than sing about Mr. Roboto, the Logs might build him.

Much of the album is high energy and fun, but the Logs' inherently inhibited coolness pushes insecure soloists into over-selling their songs. I wasn't sure if the lead singer of Jump and Anna Molly was being serious or joking. His Meatloaf/Jack Black style is over the top. Holiday in Spain and The Blower's Daughter are over-emoted.

Too many backgrounds get tedious, with unvarying repetition (Jump, Get Over It), and some of the arrangers' syllable choices border on silly.

Jump's intro is killer! The track opens with convincing crowd noise and the song's iconic staccato beats. I could easily picture the darkened stage, spotlights and lasers panning around an enormous auditorium, dramatic stage lighting coming up ... The audience goes wild when the monstrous bass line kicks in — this stuff gives you chills. But then the staccato notes start to wear, with no variation in the chord structure or texture. The group subs in the solo lyrics, "gets me dowwwn", "just how you feeel", "how have you beeen?", "so let's beginnn". It's painfully awkward, kills the energy of the staccato notes, and drags the listener from the Van Halen high.

During the first verse of Here (In Your Arms), the soloist's eagerness and quirkiness drew me far enough into this Euro-pop song that I could stomach bopping along to the harshly squared-off Cher effect in the chorus. Once past the obligatory eye rolling, the song's infectious and upbeat energy carried me along.

Brighter Than Sunshine's best moment is a ten second build in the bridge, where all the Logs are blending beautifully into the song's climactic, big chord. The rest of the song pales in comparison, mostly because of a soloist whose technique is weak and undersupported. His voice is clear but tenuous, and there are audible intonator adjustments throughout, especially on descending melisma.

The soloist on Get Over It really executes. His style and intensity match the original song. The background in this version is muscular, but I found myself wanting even more testosterone.

The soloist on Save Room seems to understand R&B style. The arrangement, though, involves a sickly dissonance and undersupported high tenor line. The style comes off as a little muzacky.

Frequently Baby (She's a Teenage Maniac) is catchy, fun, and singable, with a fun "hoo hoo hoo" chorus and a big "ah" chord that closes out the chorus. An earnest, high energy soloist drives the song along. The musical interlude is obvious: "she's a maniac, maniac on the dance floor". I was alive to hear the original on the radio, and I still hate this song, which Tommy Boy helped bring back.

Are You Gonna Be My Girl rocks out and bounces along. The glee-club-plus-clapping "are you gun gun gun be my girl" in the bridge is fun and different. The background is suitably meat market macho for this song, but the block's single syllable texture is predictable and a little boring.

Holiday in Spain features a sentimental melody that lends itself to over-emoting. The solosit is a little hokey. He's trying too hard and you can tell. He's working too hard for style, and the emotion rings hollow. A few moments evoke George Michaels. But it's a pretty well-written song. The background builds nicely through each chorus until it's just soaring.

The Blower's Daughter is just a bad song. Damien Rice steals lyrics and melody that are critical to his song, ("can't take my eyes off of you") and employs them pathetically. This is a Frankenstein of patched together influences, and even the best a cappella cover should disturb the villagers.

Hymn is exactly the kind of song that someone who listens to too much pop would like. It's bland, with a semi-"dreamy" soloist and block chord backgrounds. Even the yodelly section isn't much more than an elementary school level scale exercise.

Feel Good Inc. is the only track on the album with which I find no critical flaw. It's a good Gorillaz knockoff, with all the clever production you'd expect: detuning tenors in the intro, tight percussion, bad eq on crazy laughter guy, good washy "oowahhoh"s in the choruses. It's head boppin', groovin' goodness, and I like it.

In the end, there's a lot to enjoy about Give Us Back Our Spyplane!. From the album's stylish cover art (the best I've seen in years!) to its high energy soloists and lively studio production, the Logs make a strong first impression. The group pumps out the wattage and occasionally blows a fuse.


5
Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Jump 4
2 Here (In Your Arms) 5
3 Brighter Than Sunshine 4
4 Get Over It 4
5 Save Room 5
6 Frequently Baby (She's a Teenage Maniac) 4
7 Are You Gonna Be My Girl 5
8 Holiday in Spain 5
9 The Blower's Daughter 5
10 [Untitled] 4
11 Feel Good Inc. 4
12 Anna Molly 5
13 Hymn 5

Two words immediately sprang to mind the first time I listened to Give Us Back Our Spyplane! by the MIT Logarhythms: "Flabber" and "gasted". The entire album was simply unexpected. From the opening (albeit cheesy) claps of Jump to the final lingering ring of Hymn, the Logs have delivered a surprisingly refreshing, unencumbered and unpretentious album for the collegiate a cappella community.

The entire album fairly crackles with an exuberance that is missing from a lot of recordings that I've heard this year. The voices are in the forefront of the recording — not unnecessarily overly-processed or heavily diluted in the mix. Where vocal modification is encouraged — songs like Here (In Your Arms) and Feel Good Inc. — the outcome is exceptional, conveying a natural liveliness instead of electrical artifice.

You can imagine the guys singing each of these songs live. And if the talent is still as high in the group, the songs will sound nearly identical to the recordings. Congratulations go to James Gammon for his seemingly light hand in mixing and engineering the tracks, and for providing a crisply buoyant recording.

A subtle technique used to great effect on the album is the transitioning between several of the tracks making the album progress in one fluid motion. Most notably is the bridging of Here (In Your Arms) into Brighter Than Sunshine, and the percussion and guitar licks at the end of Feel Good Inc. into Anna Molly. The ending chord of the first song becomes the opening foundation for soloist Stephen Nicholson's groove attempt. It was glib, hokey and magical. I totally ate up the concept when I realized that a new song had started. I replayed the two songs countless times. The gimmick still gets me. And the same can be said for my second favorite pairing. The seamless transition speaks of master musicians exploring their artistry in an encouraging way.

The untitled track between The Blower's Daughter and Feel Good, Inc. overextends the concept by trying to make a new song out of the two. It is an intriguing experiment nevertheless, but a little jarring.

The influx of John Legend covers this year has been interesting. Let's add Dorian Dargan's sweetly smooth Save Room as one of the better offerings.

The breakout hit of the album is The Blower's Daughter. It is quite possibly the most emotionally captivating a cappella recording that I've heard in years. It definitely grew on me. Michael Miller's arrangement is at once simplistic, while also being extremely detailed in complexity. Miller is frugal where he needs to be, choosing not to use "too many notes". The lovely syllabic structure propels the listener through each section of the song — each phrase building in intensity as the onslaught of distraught derails the soloist. And Matthew Schoeneck is textbook brilliance: he fills the solo with passion and precision — not letting the high possibility of histrionics mar what should become his signature song.

Anna Molly is another arranged marvel by Miller. The lip buzz guitar line should become a technical study for nouveau ways for getting beyond the "beer-neer" and "jigga-jow" sludge we've gotten in.

The only problem with the album is the occasional intonation issue, which stretches the acceptable blending limits. Paying closer attention to consistent vowel matching and chord locking would have made Give Us Back Our Spyplane! the best album of the year. Period.

Get it now.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Jump 4
2 Here (In Your Arms) 3
3 Brighter Than Sunshine 3
4 Get Over It 5
5 Save Room 4
6 Frequently Baby (She's a Teenage Maniac) 4
7 Are You Gonna Be My Girl 5
8 Holiday in Spain 5
9 The Blower's Daughter 4
10 [Untitled] 3
11 Feel Good Inc. 4
12 Anna Molly 4
13 Hymn 5

The MIT Logarhythms are the type of group I love seeing in concert. They have a driving energy that makes you sit up on the end of your seat. Mind you, the Logs and this album are not overly impressive by our community's standards. Production? Average (but still much better than recordings of five years ago). Arrangements? Mostly "bahs", "dahs", and "dms", but they certainly make the most of what they are singing. Vocal talent? Above average (these guys can sing and can feel the arrangements through). They aren't perfect, but they get their hands dirty and lay it out there for you to make your final decision. I dig that.

The opening rhythm in Here (In Your Arms) is off by a split second to the point of being annoying (a moment where computers are so exact, it ruins the song), although that feeling dissipates when the other polyphonic rhythms enter and the mistake is covered up (hooray for technology!). There are other slight issues from track to track, yet an untrained ear will probably not notice them. The production does an excellent job of giving the album a natural feel while still utilizing the studio to provide appropriate effects and ambient support.

Solos are above average, and I particularly enjoyed the way the Logs passed around the solos on OK Go's Get Over It. This doesn't usually work, but the guys' timbre and style really come together well. The track listing on Give Us Back Our Spyplane! is emotionally engaging, bouncing back and forth between old standbys like Van Halen's Jump to the lesser-known Counting Crows Holiday in Spain, the latter pulling appropriately at the heartstrings.

To be especially commended is the Logs ability to maintain energy from start to finish on every track, whether a ballad or up-tempo song. When Jet came out with their single Are You Gonna Be My Girl, a cappella groups everywhere salivated at the chance to arrange this track for their group (there's actually not much to arrange). Well, at least until they figured out how much energy it takes to pull it off. The Logs didn't seem to flinch at the challenge. This links back to their apparent training (or a really fantastic music director). The Logs shine in the category where most groups fail to impress: energy. But this is the category that can't be faked in the studio.

The MIT Logs are better under the surface than most groups who lean on the studio to the point of skewing the consumer's perception of what the group actually sounds like without the studio acne touch-ups. Others may say this album is a little too plain and that the Logs didn't go far enough in the studio. It's a coin flip, and personally I can see both sides of the argument. Put into a corner and forced to choose between the Logs and a similar album with a greater sheen and a sneaking suspicion the singers aren't as good as they appear to be ... I choose the Logs.

Give Us Back Our Spyplane! attempts to straddle the decade-old debate of choosing between studio perfection or emotional and musical integrity. These days it's not so black and white and the MIT Logarhythms are somewhere within the gray. Is this album for you? What shade of gray do you prefer?


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Ordering Information

To order this album, visit A-cappella.com. For information about purchasing at a live performance, visit the group's website.

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