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North Carolina State University

Lockdown (2017)


April 4, 2018

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 4.0
1 Love Runs Out 4.3
2 Riptide 4.3
3 Deeper 4.0
4 Latch 5.0
5 Oblivion 4.3

Recorded 2016
Total time: 18:37, 5 songs

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
1 Love Runs Out 3
2 Riptide 3
3 Deeper 3
4 Latch 5
5 Oblivion 4

Lockdown falls a bit short of my expectations, but offers a standout single from NC State's oldest mixed group.

Here's what I like and think you'll like, too. There's real dynamics! There's phrasing, even on extra-poppy pieces! There's a commitment to creating a group sound! All of these achievements deserve exclamation points as these areas are hard to execute strongly within the confinements of recordings. I also appreciate Acappology's love of creating a nice intense slow-jam smolder, truly heard in part or full across Lockdown, though most audibly so on the opener Love Runs Out. The standout single, however, most assuredly goes to Latch. While a favorite to cover lately in the collegiate circuit, the artistry that Colorado Pratt delivers is surreally captivating, especially his enviable falsetto work. You almost forget his group is behind him, crafting a perfect frame around him. 

What I like and what concerns me is closely related: we've got the same (talented!) arranger on four of the five tracks in Shaunak Turaga, and all five tracks offer vocal percussion from Turaga, too. Turaga certainly has a signature style in both writing and beat patterns, so a repetition and preditability factor is present when enjoying this EP as a whole. The lowest dip in the play-through is always Riptide, which Turago tries to vary in tempo and feel, but the song just fails to get interesting, most especially in the solo line which stays within a small pocket of a handful of notes. For a large mixed group capable of exploring different terrains, Riptide is too close to the acoustic original. The only piece that actually does explore huge peaks and valleys of soundscapes is Oblivion, the sole work arranged by another group member (Tori Tavares). This work is full of drama through vocal intensity and very lovely and purposeful ornamentation in the soprano lines, coupled with fresh-sounding production absent from the rest of Lockdown from Eric Scholz. On a less favorable production note, the ever-present reverb and compressed bass in the first four tracks creates a barrier for listeners to hear the full depths and colorings of Acappology. 

There's strong musicianship present on Lockdown, but save for Latch, not enough for me to keep pumping through my speakers.

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
1 Love Runs Out 5
2 Riptide 5
3 Deeper 4
4 Latch 5
5 Oblivion 4

Listening to NCSU Acappology's latest EP, Lockdown, I am reminded a little bit of Pentatonix's run on NBC's The Sing Off. Now, let me be clear — I'm not directly comparing Acappology to Pentatonix. However, a comment repeated to Pentatonix over and over by the judges was about the wise choices the group was making in its arrangements to make the songs original and fresh. Acappology has taken a similar approach on this EP by taking creative liberties with each of the five tracks, and the group has delivered on each and every song.

The group opens with OneRepublic's Love Runs Out, of which I have heard more than a half dozen covers by various groups (including my former group, Collective Measures). Rather than sticking with the traditional tempo and repeated 8th notes in the bass line for a majority of the song, arranger Shaunak Turaga (who arranged the first four tracks) keeps listeners on their toes. He changes the tempo and feel of the song throughout, has background parts drop out and stay silent for a few beats to allow the soloist to have moments of his own, and seamlessly adds Kanye West's Love Lockdown into the latter part of the track. It is entertaining from start to finish, and is definitely one of my favorite interpretations of the song. Actually, I take that back — it is my favorite interpretation of the song.

While not as noticeable or drastic as Love Runs Out, Latch offers a little bit of a twist in the second verse with more of a presence from the vocal percussion (supplied on the whole album by Turaga). This slight change drives the second verse a little more forward, differentiating itself from the first verse and the original version by Sam Smith. The final thirty or so seconds of the track put a nice little bow on the whole arrangement, allowing the group to slowly fade out before the final "got you shackled in my embrace / I'm latching onto you". It's a pretty arrangement from start to finish. I have to give a big shout-out to Colorado Pratt and the vocal gymnastics that he displays throughout the entire song — well done, sir. And not just with the high parts in the chorus, which is incredibly difficult for many singers, but also his negotiation between head and chest voices with ease (as a bass/baritone, I am very jealous). I absolutely love that last line where he shows off his lower register as well — it is the perfect sendoff for Latch.

There are so many great moments across all five tracks of this release that it's really hard to highlight but a few. The arrangements are fantastic and keep me engaged from start to finish with their little nuances and additions, all five soloists are stellar in both their deliveries and emotion in the tracks, and the background vocals and percussion are vocally dynamic and strike a great balance between each other and the soloists. The only real downside is that it's only five tracks long. So, while I'm waiting for more tracks and hopefully a full-length album to come from Acappology, I'll just be listening to Lockdown on repeat.

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
1 Love Runs Out 5
2 Riptide 5
3 Deeper 5
4 Latch 5
5 Oblivion 5

The old saying goes that you should never judge a book by its cover. Acappology's plain-covered Lockdown contains high-quality and well-polished performances from this group. Thanks to Eric Scholz Productions, this hors-d'oeuvres of great work makes me crave more of this kind of a cappella.

The EP opens with a unison sound on Love Runs Out that develops into a polyphonic euphoria. Brian Noyes' solo is an example of controlled vocals that provide the performance energy an album opener requires. If this track was a live performance at a rave, I would kiss the cheeks of anyone close by — it's that good.

Next, Riptide showcases Mitchell Weston's adorable vocal solo. I'm starting to think that these guys must have had extensive vocal training to turn out such convincing solo performances. The sound quality of this group could compete with professional a cappella groups.

In Deeper, the grit and energy is not just audible in the soloists. As Tori Tavares exhibits her vocal capabilities, the rest of the group performs their parts with equal energy but without outshining the main vocals. The synergy of each part, including the vocal percussion, is the factor that makes this arrangement work.

A lot of singers may find it difficult to cover Sam Smith songs such as Latch. Colorado Pratt makes is sound easy while he crosses vocal passaggios seamlessly. The arrangement's slowdown style works quite well in highlighting chords that are understated in the original material.

And lastly, Oblivion closes the EP, leaving me wanting more from Acappology — my overall listening experience of Lockdown makes me want to start my own a cappella group. It's such an aural pleasure to hear talented individuals making great a cappella.

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Lockdown also streams on Spotify.

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