Welcome to RARB Picks of the Year, 2012 Edition!
Reviewers who published at least seven reviews in 2012 were asked to select one Pick of the Year and one Honorable Mention from albums that they personally reviewed for RARB. Reviewers with fewer published reviews could choose only a Pick of the Year. (Albums chosen in both categories are listed as Picks only; the full listing may be found under individual reviewers.) Reviewers could submit descriptions of their picks, but were not required to. Reviewers were also asked to select Songs of the Year on a similar principle, again restricted to the songs that they personally reviewed for RARB. Reviewers could also abstain from making selections in any or all categories.
Editor's note: Though the review was published in early 2013, Busted. was eligible for 2012 Picks due to our adjusted end-of-year publishing schedule.
John K Brown is an absolutely unreal talent, and Unplugged is his musical playground. A cappella solo albums often lack depth and spirit, but Brown's spiritual passion is felt on every one of the album's mind-blowing tracks. If you haven't bought Unplugged yet, or checked out the sweet sounds of Mr. Brown, I highly recommend you do so as quickly as possible.
Inbound isn't a perfect album by any means, but it flows in a coherent, cohesive way that few other a cappella albums achieved this year. The men of Redline sing their hearts out, and solid arranging and top-notch production (from Liquid 5th Productions) makes Inbound my second-favorite a cappella album reviewed this year.
Contemporary a cappella is getting more electronic and dance-oriented every year, and muSix's addictive and catchy gans gans oben is definitely the best representation of EDM-inspired a cappella that I reviewed. The propulsive beat and infective spirit ensured that this song found its way into my regular 2012 listening, despite my not having a single clue what the lyrics are about.
The Cocktails really put everything they had into this sultry, seductive cover: strong arranging, a killer solo, an intriguingly sparse beat, and tight harmonies. Russian Roulette served as the best album opener of the year, introducing Another Round to the listener with a mix of sexy intrigue and the hint of danger.
I slipped this in as an honorable mention last year even though the review hadn't been posted yet. But now it's time to recognize this album as my official Pick of the Year for 2012. The group does a fantastic job at evoking emotional responses through layers of sounds. The unique nature of the album led me to proclaim in my review that if I gave out more "5"s in the Innovation/creativity category, then this one would have to be rated a "6". Definitely worth a listen by anyone looking for something outside your typical pop song covers.
This was easily the best collegiate a cappella album I reviewed in 2012. The singers in this mixed group all blend together, have a very full sound, have no intonation issues, and employ no in-your-face auto-tuning. It's just nice music to listen to.
Although in some ways I liked the remixed version of this song (also on the album) better than the original, this version provides a haunting simplicity that sucks you in and grabs your attention. The female soloist's voice is to die for.
I've heard several a cappella versions of this song, but this is one of the best. Another female soloist with a voice to die for, and definitely a song I would share with my non-a cappella-aware friends to let them know what this genre is about.
No album this year gave me more joy than Revival. Not every song is a masterpiece (many are), but they all have heart. A lot of thought and love went into every second of this album, and Noah Berg's arrangements are inventive and soaked with musicality.
There were many good all-male albums this year, but Take III delivers on almost every track. Highlights include the brilliant arrangement of Assassin, the infectious American Girls, and Daniel Braff's lead on 25 or 6 to 4.
The juxtaposition of the heart-wrenching My Hero and the uplifting Beside You results in an emotional journey that will leave you drained and exhausted. Seriously, I always need a nap after listening to this.
I could have picked any of the great dance tracks on this album, but When Love Takes Over has one brilliant moment that stuck with me all year. Right in the middle of the track, the backs start to rehash bits of every other song on the album in reverse order until they get back to the opener and shout "Not gonna reach my telephone!" They somehow got all twelve of these different songs — different keys, tempos — to fit together perfectly in this awesome moment that reminds you of all the great tracks you just heard and ties up the album in a meaningful way. It's the perfect way to end the album.
What can I say about an album that mimicked the whirlwind of emotions that was 2012 for me — giddy, forlorn, ecstatic, bombastic, angry, hopeful. Like the word itself, Pulse gives me life! From the fantastic beats, the booming bass, the superb production to singing beasts, Pulse was exactly what I needed and still is to this day.
A not normal TeKay pick for a not normal album. Yes, it has instruments. Yes, the tuning and overall musicianship leaves a lot to be desired. This album is probably as polarizing as The Beelzebubs' Code Red. Isn't that what being a pivotal (and pickable) album is all about?
Yaaaas. Baudy, bitchin' and bodacious at its bewildering best.
I waffle back and forth between this song and Appetit. Both are magnificent and contain the High C of Love (and Ds and Gs, actually), but depending on my mood each fills a specific aural pocket. Appetit brings out that midnight slow jam with utter perfection, but it is truly the flirtatious funk of Begynderballistik that keeps you satisfied for the entire night.
Basix delivering a fantastic collection of pop songs is no surprise: these Danes know how to write songs that capitalize on their strengths — and how to deliver them in such a way that their all-vocal nature is not some novelty or gimmick. These songs are so catchy and fun that you won't even notice that they're not sung in English (and your non-aca-loving friends might not even notice that there are no instruments). There's nothing overly flashy about this performance: the syllables are simple, and the guys don't over-pack the arrangements with sound or frills, letting Hjemmebane stand as a solid collection of classic, beautiful songs.
UVA's Sil'hooettes do so much right on Playing With Lightning: the album is chock-full of stunning arrangements, powerful soloists, and lush singing that really fits the mood of the songs that these women have chosen. The album is not without its flaws — the production is a bit overdone at times, especially on the percussion — but these ladies nicely avoid many of the pitfalls that many collegiate groups (particularly all-female groups) face, leaving a beautiful album that's certainly one of the most memorable of the year.
More and more college groups are venturing into writing original music, and Duke's Out of the Blue delivers a stunning song by group member Marissa Bergmann with the song * * *. Like much of the rest of Still Point, the song shimmers, with its hushed, serene arrangement accented with whispers and spoken word.
Vocado's Innan isen lägger sig is a haunting song with a moody tone and an expressive solo. It's not only the best song on the Swedish group's pop/jazz album Northern Lights; it commands a listener's full attention, from its opening drone to its closing soprano sigh.
Peter Hollens and Tom Anderson do it like they always do — with energy, confidence, and flair. This cover brings more fun and excitement than the original. What more could you ask for?
Busted. squarely designates the arranger as artist, equal to the composer, equal to the lead singer, and perhaps just a hair above them. It's impossible not to love a musical world in which the original compositions are merely a starting point instead of a straightjacket. The result is so strikingly original it could readjust the scale by which collegiate albums should be judged.
Rockapella's "other" supertenor, John K. Brown, cuts loose on Unplugged with ten tracks of soulful, danceable, riff-tastic R&B-gospel. If you're looking to praise Jesus while simultaneously shaking what your momma gave you, then bust out that credit card and say "Amen"; this purchase is a must.
Lil' Red Riding Hood is a masterclass in bass solo singing. Tim Faust takes The Bobs' classic cover to new levels with artful melismas and a truly stunning use of range. Low Cs abound, but this bass is also perfectly happy popping into a high tenor B-flat in falsetto, or belting out a powerful tenor G with ease. Forget all that, because it's the song's ending that will make you hit rewind on iTunes as Tim delivers a sustained low G below bass low C. Yes: a fourth below the lowest note that most low basses can sing on their best day. No, it's not an octave pedal. Oh, and ladies, he's also tall with great hair. So, enjoy.
The best example of Ithacappella's infectious fun.
The Pink Album has a wonderful sense of balance. Songs are familiar but not cliché. Arrangements are inventive without abandoning important melodies. Studio magic embellishes yet retains the candor of live performance. And the soloists own their roles. It may not be revolutionary or picture perfect, but The Pink Album is a work of art that can really speak to your emotions.
It is no small task to re-envision Adele's radio-plastered Rolling in the Deep. Fortunately for us, The Duke's Men have a knack for finding striking harmonies and appropriate soloists, and breaking loose from the classic pop structure. When it all comes together, we get this masterpiece that swells from wistful soliloquy to anthemic hoedown without skipping a beat.
And the Rest is Twistory is filled with upbeat pop and dazzling production. What Turns You On stands out because it harnesses so much energy in so few syllables. The dance between choral "oh"s, sharp "jent"s, and breathtaking silences leaves the perfect space for Emily Mooney's fiery solo.
Perhaps the only Christmas album you'll want to listen to year-round, and simply among the best a cappella out there.
My favorite album to listen to in the car, bursting with soaring leads and emotional backs.
The vocal tension driving this song is incredible, and the storytelling is superb.
Who needs coffee when you've got this hot jam?!
What do you think? Mouth off in the forum.