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Logarhythms

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Do You Have This Room Reserved? (2018)

4.3

Reviews By Elie Landau, TeKay, and Andrew Adams

October 18, 2018

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.3
Tracks
1 Let's Dance 4.3
2 Drag Me Down 4.0
3 How Deep Is Your Love 5.0
4 Never Too Much 4.3
5 Human 4.0
6 September 4.0
7 715–CRΣΣKS 4.0
8 Love Me Now 4.0
9 Redbone 5.0
10 Mercy 4.3
11 Rebel Beat 4.0

Recorded 2017 – 2018
Total time: 37:50, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Let's Dance 5
2 Drag Me Down 4
3 How Deep Is Your Love 5
4 Never Too Much 5
5 Human 5
6 September 4
7 715–CRΣΣKS 4
8 Love Me Now 4
9 Redbone 5
10 Mercy 3
11 Rebel Beat 4

I suppose this is true for any a cappella album — and indeed any recording — but as I've written frequently in the past specifically about the MIT Logarhythms, the quality of their output often comes down to a balance of man vs machine. How much of the human vocal element do they allow to shine through and how is it executed, versus how effective (or not) is their use of effects, sampling, and other post-production technology?

To say, then, that Do You Have This Room Reserved? is the least "mechanized" album from the Logs that I recall hearing in some time — perhaps since Natural — is a testament to how refreshingly Human most of this release sounds.  It's not necessarily, however, an indication that this is a great album.

Don't get me wrong: there is a sizable amount of terrific work to be heard here and when the Logs put it all together — as they do on the fabulous Bowie opener Let's Dance — it's reliably some of the best a cappella I'll hear in any given year. The arranging in the signature groove/lick of the chorus is layered and interesting, using the background voices to enhance and reinforce the rhythm of the vocal percussion; the background voices demonstrate plenty of dynamic variation with appropriate crescendos and sforzandos as needed; the chords of the original are expanded upon for added "crunchiness"; the vp is (mostly) tasteful, and while the verses are perhaps a bit simplistically arranged, the contrast between the simplicity of the verse and more explosive chorus is effective.

Where a fair amount of the rest of the album falls just short is in matching that excellence across all facets of a given song. The human vocal quality of Drag Me Down and How Deep Is Your Love is commendable, but the depth of the arrangements fall short, leaning too heavily on the tracked vp to do most of the rhythmic heavy lifting. And lest you think that I just have a bias against heavily sampled and gridded vp, the evidence to the contrary is on the very next selection, a fantastic take on Luther Vandross's Never Too Much. Yes, the processing of the guitars and the congas is perhaps too realistic for my personal tastes, but overall, this is a cover that preserves the spirit of the original without being slavishly transcriptive, using the vocal element to enhance and expand upon well-known source material; another example of excellent balance in the group's competing tendencies. Ditto for Redbone which took a song I had trouble conceiving as a compelling a cappella song and made it engaging and entertaining.

Another issue, not uncommon for many groups but perhaps quite uncommon for this one, especially in light of their last album, which I criticized at times for being OVER-arranged, is what feels like under-arranging on several songs offered here. On some level, it's an outgrowth of the issue noted above of expecting vp to "carry" an arrangement such that the background voices aren't given all that much to do except big, lush block chords and/or word echoes. Of course, that can work in certain instances (boy band ballads come to mind), but as much as I'm grateful that the group has paid much more nuanced attention to dynamics and tone and feel this time around (versus As Viewed From Above), there are a several moments that feel a bit lazy and underconceptualized. Mercy is the most egregious example — serviceable, sure, but nothing at all special — but it's true of Rebel Beat (which also feels like it's missing its floor tom or kick drum) and Love Me Now as well. In the case of the latter and How Deep Is Your Love (both arranged by Neil Aggarwal), as well as September, the overall sound of the arrangement is ultimately satisfactory, but there seems to be a tendency to fall too much in love with the signature riff/lick and not expand, adapt, or vary it much over the course of the song.

I should note that if you're madly in love with the track list of this album and if your a cappella listening is less particular and critical and mostly just as a casual enthusiast, I suspect you will thoroughly enjoy the Logs' work here. This is solid work, to be sure, but the bar for truly extraordinary work is higher than it's perhaps ever been on the collegiate level, and this is the first time for me in many years, if ever, that the boy geniuses at MIT have fallen just a hair's breadth short.


4
Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Let's Dance 4
2 Drag Me Down 3
3 How Deep Is Your Love 5
4 Never Too Much 4
5 Human 3
6 September 3
7 715–CRΣΣKS 5
8 Love Me Now 4
9 Redbone 5
10 Mercy 5
11 Rebel Beat 4

The MIT Logarhythms have released another solid album with the group's latest recording, Do You Have This Room Reserved?. The Logs have some really fun tunes with a nice crispness and energy — especially the opener Let's Dance which is just chockablock with vim. The songs flow into one another with transitional material between most of the tracks. It makes for an incredibly cohesive album that takes you by surprise the first few times that you listen to the whole thing. I'm smitten.

That's not to say that the album doesn't have its faults. There is some spotty musicianship and intonation problems on a few of the songs. Most egregiously is with Drag Me Down, which starts out as a pretty incredible track, but near the bridge when the soloist stretches for the upper notes, he doesn't quite make it and the chord doesn't lock the way that it should. It is a jarring moment on what could have been the best track on the album.

That best track accolade goes to the simply divine 715–CRΣΣKS. The sparse structure of the arrangement pairs so well with the choral delivery of the song. The blend and the emotional arc is outstanding; it is like hearing it anew. The performance lends itself to expressive dynamics and phrasing. Impressive guys. Though I am surprised that it made it through distribution without an explicit warning label. As an outro, the song's the lead-in to Love Me Now is sublime.    

Other songs on the album are very hit or miss. Redbone is a super, super hit. It's sexy and nuanced and all around great. This Childish Gambino track is probably the most sensual hip-hop male performance that I've heard since Pony from the Bubs' 2005 album Shedding. The cover of Shawn Mendes's Mercy is a treat not to be missed. Conversely, Human just isn't very captivating, nor is the following track, September. I'm not sure if it's the fact that the arrangements are the most simplistic on the album, but both seem to fall flat in the energy department. They aren't necessarily bad, as this September is better than the On the Rocks version. They both just come across as lackluster and average. I'm not a Goo Goo Dolls fan, so closing with Rebel Beat leaves a bad impression on me, but nothing that the rest of the album doesn't immediately cast by the wayside. (I know how to uncheck the track box in iTunes so that I never have to hear it again.)

Check out Do You Have this Room Reserved?. The innovation lies within the seamless transition and grouping of tracks. It's enough to keep your interest at a high level. And if nothing else, the love that you'll feel after experiencing How Deep Is Your Love715–CRΣΣKS, and Redbone will make your friends tell you to get a room.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Let's Dance 4
2 Drag Me Down 5
3 How Deep Is Your Love 5
4 Never Too Much 4
5 Human 4
6 September 5
7 715–CRΣΣKS 3
8 Love Me Now 4
9 Redbone 5
10 Mercy 5
11 Rebel Beat 4

For those that read my review on the Logs' previous album, As Viewed From Above, you know that I have a soft spot for the group and its music dating back to my high school days. With the first few listens of this new recording, the Logs had me grooving and singing along to some popular chart toppers from a wide range of genres. It wasn't until I listened to the album a few times more, though, that I noticed that the Logs constructed their album in a way that I had never heard before on a recording ... but sounded quite familiar since I'm a fan of a certain annual competition.

Rather than a random collection of eleven tracks on a release that the group really likes performing, the Logs took a different approach and seemingly grouped the first nine tracks together into groups of three. Even though many may disagree with me on the genre of the categories, I'm calling them the "dance" trio, the "soft rock/soul" trio, and the "current pop" trio. All three songs transition almost seamlessly from one to the next and no song seems out of place in the trio that they are put into. It's almost as if the Logs put together three different sets for the ICCA Championships and are competing against themselves throughout the record!

Within each of the trios, there are highlights galore — I could go on and on talking about all of the ear candy. Focusing on the first trio, after coming out of the David Bowie classic Let's Dance, Drag Me Down starts off with this slow and smooth first verse, with the solo and background just floating over every word before quickly transitioning into the second verse with the more familiar 1D energy and tempo. Brandon Fountain delivers an emotional yet controlled solo that's full of passion and riffs, and that same passion and emotion transfers from him to Eric LaCava when he picks up in How Deep Is Your Love. Throughout the whole first trio, and really all the tracks after, too, the backgrounds and vocal percussion support the soloists beautifully. No one part takes center stage over the other parts or solo, which is a testament to both the group for being musically aware of every other part and to production work from Plaid Productions, Bill Hare, and members of the group themselves for making the group sound like one cohesive unit throughout. Further shoutouts to Noah Pauls for his incredible solo performance and crazy vocal range on Redbone and to the whole group for its groovy and fun rendition of Earth, Wind & Fire's September.  

If I had to pick apart this record, there are two things that stick out. Bon Iver's 715-CRΣΣKS doesn't land quite as firmly as the other tracks, particularly in the second verse. Starting with "toiling with your blood", the tempo picks up slightly from the first verse, which I am not totally opposed to. But then it sounds like it keeps picking up until the held "grasp". While the tenors step to each new note cleanly, I do wish the tempo was not increased as much as it is so that they had a little more time to dig in to each note change. The other critique is the format of each transition. While I do like the transitions throughout the trios, many of them are similar in that the song the Logs are transitioning to has a bit of a slower and softer introduction than its original, only to have it pick up to "a tempo" by the second verse. Drag Me Down, Human, and Love Me Now (all of the middle songs in the trios) have some version of this, which causes the transitions to be a bit formulaic. If the Logs continue this trend on the next album, I would recommend that the transitions are mixed up a bit to add a bit of variety.

With all this being said, the Logs once again smash it out of the park and have delivered a well-produced, incredibly well-sung album that is without question currently one of my favorite albums of the year.

 


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