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The G-Men

University of Michigan

ABCDEFH (2015)


July 6, 2016

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 3.7
1 Fitzpleasure 4.0
2 Skinny Love 4.3
3 Love Lockdown 4.0
4 Helplessness Blues 5.0
5 Bleeding Love 3.7

Recorded 2015
Total time: 24:19, 5 songs

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
1 Fitzpleasure 5
2 Skinny Love 5
3 Love Lockdown 5
4 Helplessness Blues 5
5 Bleeding Love 4

ABCDEFH is unreal. It's like something out of an a cappella fairy tale. It's an EP you have to play and replay and play over again to believe what you heard. The University of Michigan G-Men have been steadily exploring more wild and wonderful territory over their past few releases, and now they've made it all the way to Shangri-La. This is an astoundingly visionary collection you won't soon forget.

The visionary behind the masterpiece is Marty Gray. Gray gets the cred for being musical director of the group, arranging all five tracks on the EP, and singing lead vocals on three of those tracks. What Gray does exceptionally well is to venture beyond the facade of notes and structure in trendy radio songs. He uncovers the essence of the melody and then builds a whole new narrative, so that each arrangement feels comfortingly familiar yet excitingly new.

In fact, just about every single minute of the album feels excitingly new. Most pop arrangements have some degree of repetition that capitalizes on catchiness but also takes a toll on repeat listenability. On ABCDEFH, nothing repeats. Each song is a medley of action, drama, suspense, and reverie. The beauty of this is that you can float away in the tranquility of Skinny Love and Helplessness Blues. You can get down and roar with the intensity of Fitzpleasure and Love Lockdown. The downside of so many transitions is that sometimes, especially in Bleeding Love, moments can feel forced and the overall flow is somewhat jerky. A small price to pay for such a transcendental experience.

While the arranging and performance set a worldly tone, the percussion and production send the whole enterprise into the land of legends. Brett Burian is a titan on the throat bass. Burian is featured in Radioactive and Thinkin' Bout You on The GP from 2013, but he takes center stage in ABCDEFH. Fitzpleasure and Love Lockdown are practically arranged around his supernatural buzzing, and those are exactly the kind of creative decisions you can make when you have such special talents in your group. Plaid Productions harnesses the power of the percussion and blends it with the expressiveness of the singers for a clean, dynamic mix.

The G-Men are not afraid of grandiosity. Fortunately for the world of a cappella, they have the talent and commitment to make it happen. I'm curious to hear how they will innovate now that Burian has graduated, but I have no doubt that the next era of singers, percussionists, and arrangers will rise to the occasion. Maybe some G-Men original compositions? We'll worry about that on the next release! For now, just pick up a copy of ABCDEFH and get ready to be whisked away.

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
1 Fitzpleasure 3
2 Skinny Love 3
3 Love Lockdown 3
4 Helplessness Blues 5
5 Bleeding Love 2

I was thrilled when I received ABCDEFH by The G-Men. Their previous EP, The GP, was phenomenal. Unfortunately, ABCDEFH doesn't hold to the same standard. The G-Men take risks, which I applaud, but as with any risk, there's a chance of coming up short.

I don't want to imply that ABCDEFH is a bad album. It isn't. In many ways it's quite good. The production value is top-notch and the talent the boys bring to the table is second-to-none. There are wonderful moments throughout the entire album: a drum solo in Love Lockdown, a brilliant trio in Helplessness Blues, a great record hiss effect in Fitzpleasure. Every track has several moments like these. The problem lies in other areas. For one, the whole album feels very one-note. I find myself craving a happy, major chord to break things up. Also, the songs tend to be long and slow to find their footing. It's even harder to find some equilibrium because from the beginning, the arrangements are constantly shifting. This would be fine if there was an emotional through line to carry me along, but often the arrangements change simply to avoid being repetitive, which only serves to make them feel chaotic. Bleeding Love is a prime example. It has interesting twists left and right, but I never feel emotionally invested.

Helplessness Blues is the only track that makes me care about something. The rest of the album just feels like the G-Men are trying too hard to be original and are losing the joy in just making great music together. Yes, risks are good, but only if the heart of the song isn't sacrificed in the process.

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
1 Fitzpleasure 4
2 Skinny Love 5
3 Love Lockdown 4
4 Helplessness Blues 5
5 Bleeding Love 5

Melancholic, blue, intense. The University of Michigan G-Men do it again with ABCDEFH. Solos are spot-on and arrangements are creative as can be (though kind of predictable — Marty Gray should have made some variations in his arranging style). There's a lot of overtone singing, and some pauses here and there; as an EP, these guys are doing a great job in setting the group's sound that's easy to identify as the G-Men.

My favorite track on this EP is Helplessness Blues. The choral approach does it justice, and the intense build-up is a hair-raiser at some points. Skinny Love is the same, but again it's a bit predictable and doesn't make the same "goozies" feeling as the previously-mentioned track. Lawrence Yong may also be the best male solo I've heard on Bleeding Love (originally performed by Leona Lewis). The chord variations that are different from the original track earn some brownie points, too. Fitzpleasure creates an imaginary theatre environment but with all those random pauses, it could be better visually promoted as a music video. The background vocals are presented like tiny hors d'oeuvres — yummy, but not too much. And lastly, Love Lockdown is another one of those G-Men branded songs with bass overtones and well-done vocal percussion. Props to Marty Gray as both the arranger and the vocal soloist.

I highly recommend ABCDEFH as an EP to everyone who likes just enough intensity and blue Sunday feelings. These singers don't disappoint. They put in just enough spices to make you stay a fanatic. Grab it while it's hot.

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Ordering Information

ABCDEFH also streams on Spotify. 

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