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VOXID

shades of light (2018)

4.7

October 5, 2018

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 5.0
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.7
Tracks
1 Headlock 5.0
2 Music Ain't My Thing 4.3
3 Save Your Soul 4.3
4 No Diggity 4.7
5 Love Native 4.3
6 Musical Treasure 4.7
7 Tears 4.3
8 Summer Rain 4.7
9 How Dare You 4.0
10 I Fade Away 4.7
11 This Is My Day 4.7
12 Edge 4.7
13 I Fade Away REMIX 4.0

Recorded 2016 – 2017
Total time: 51:15, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Headlock 5
2 Music Ain't My Thing 4
3 Save Your Soul 5
4 No Diggity 5
5 Love Native 4
6 Musical Treasure 5
7 Tears 5
8 Summer Rain 5
9 How Dare You 4
10 I Fade Away 5
11 This Is My Day 5
12 Edge 5
13 I Fade Away REMIX 5

VOXID has arrived. shades of light is a full-length album that takes the promise of the group's earlier EP and builds it into a first-class statement.

Original songwriting is such a breath of fresh air for a pop vocal record. It inspires a different kind of listening — the vocal medium merges with the melody, going beyond the novelty possible for a new presentation of an old friend. On the group's best songs, like I Fade AwayTears and Summer Rain, VOXID creates music with a sense of gravity and staying power. This artistic vision is rounded out with a few well-chosen and expertly performed covers. On Save Your Soul, Friedrich Rau provides my favorite male lead on the album. No Diggity is always fun and Headlock offers the canvas for a perfect arrangement to open the album.

Women's voices are the sonic anchor of this disc. Diana Labrenz and Maike Lindemann infuse all of their leads with joy and also blend beautifully with their three male colleagues. Daniel Barke's percussion completes the sound. The overall effect is rich and filled out, without losing sight of the five voices at its core. Most of the tunes are somewhere between pure pop and R&B, with the exception of rock ballad Tears — it's an interesting change of pace and a stellar performance. While the five songs from the EP are all still here, the depth of a full-length recording gives them context to thrive.

That said, I never could get too enthusiastic about Love Native. The hook is catchy, but some of the riffs still grate. I can't get excited about a rap that ends on "now spill the beans" after passing through "still I feel like vanilla ice". Out of context, those lines are funny, but in the song they make me cringe. Lyrically, I also don't connect with Music Ain't My Thing, a story of a singer who wished she'd done something else with her life. The tunes are good, the words make me want to skip ahead – maybe music is the thing after all.

One thing I learned from this record — it is apparently "Vox-id", as in "Wizard of" or the depths of your soul, not ID as a thing you show to prove yourself. This is perhaps beside the point but I was never sure until the group said its own name in No Diggity.

Anyway, shades of light is a very good record. You may or may not fall in love, but you won't be disappointed.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Headlock 5
2 Music Ain't My Thing 4
3 Save Your Soul 4
4 No Diggity 4
5 Love Native 4
6 Musical Treasure 4
7 Tears 4
8 Summer Rain 4
9 How Dare You 4
10 I Fade Away 4
11 This Is My Day 4
12 Edge 4
13 I Fade Away REMIX 3

VOXID has tremendous talent: originality, a unified sound, impressive expression, and great production. The group sings with emotion and edge — a focused energy where it's warranted, and an enviable soft touch in the fragile moments. The wealth of original writing is truly refreshing, and the arranging is solid as well. Fans of the group's 2016 EP will recognize all their favorite compositions, now with an additional seven tracks of a cappella goodness. Add to that a little extra bonus: one track of voices with instrumental accompaniment. Fans of VOXID have quite a lot to enjoy here.

VOXID delivers an impressive nine originals and three covers. The group's primary style is one of pop sensibility informed by jazz chordal dissonance. Most of the tracks evidence a touch of melancholy: Love Native, Musical Treasure, Tears, Summer Rain, How Dare You, and I Fade Away. Only Music Ain't My Thing's light-hearted life story, This Is My Day's optimism, and Edge's tinge of anger diverge from the theme. Overall it's both cohesive and sufficiently varied.

Superstar bass and vp, Daniel Barke, gets full marks for having recorded, edited, mixed, co-produced, and arranged nearly the entire album, and for having composed three of the tracks, too. But nearly all of these talented members contribute noteworthy originals, a rare feat for any group.

Even the album art is quite beautiful, offering images of the members in a shimmering glow of rainbow hues and bringing the album title to life. Kudos for crediting all composers (though lead and arranging credits would have been a welcome addition as well).

shades of light has many worthy elements, but some critique is warranted.

It's undoubtedly true that plenty of today's hot, English-language pop lyrics elevate slang over grammar, and sometimes sing-ability over meaning. Our culture trains us to give a wide berth where lyrics are concerned. Poetic genius is always preferred, but generally, if it's not awkward or utterly insipid, it's perfectly fine for most listeners. Nonetheless, there are moments where VOXID's lyrical and grammatical choices may leave attentive listeners a little bemused. From Love Native's opening: "The way she moves makes me feel so good. And the way she looks and my eyes just gooves." Or later: "She makes me losin' every control. Dancin' with my baby makes me, makes me, makes me losin' body and soul." From Tears: "I can't be neither without you nor without me". From Summer Rain: "Your purple lifestyle makes you tellin' him the white lie." These, and some accented pronunciations are an occasional distraction, pulling the listener out of the experience. Though frequent enough to affect scores, these small jolts are quickly forgiven as this all-English release comes from a German group, after all. In a sense, they are just being their multi-lingual selves and some "extended" English is to be expected.

The flip side of that is that there is an occasional frustration with the more R&B and hip-hop elements within the group's style, which are limited but still worth discussing. The concept of cultural appropriation is a hot topic in the US, though certainly not a new one. It involves the passing off of a culture's elements as belonging to an outsider. Now, the line between homage and appropriation is as grey as it gets, but knowing where to draw that line is a crucial issue, at least in US cultural literacy. The identity of the speaker (or singer) determines part of the message. How genuine their connection to the material often forms part of our reaction. After seeing many European performers both in Europe and in the US, I can safely state that the lines are drawn differently there. Europeans bestow a more generous inclination to attribute the use of African, or African-American styling as homage or inspiration. 

In the US, a singer of any race can sing R&B, or rap, but if she does, she feels a pressure to present as native, as fully fluent and not merely as an admirer. If that match is off, US audiences often express distaste to a greater degree than, say, with mistakes in rhythmic or pitch accuracy. These are generalizations, but again, at least in the US, they are widespread. There's a sense from urban audiences particularly of waiting in judgment; they require that the singer prove, not skill so much as authenticity, in the style. Even if less is inoffensive, it still conjures karaoke, something a HS or collegiate group might flirt with.

VOXID is a respected, professional European mixed quintet, based in Leipzig, Germany, and founded (albeit under a different name) back in 2006. The group incorporates elements of jazz, pop, R&B and hip-hop. The jazz and pop elements are top-notch, and this is the majority of their sound in both covers and originals. In reference to the issue above, the R&B and hip-hop elements feel European-flavored. Sometimes it's accented pronunciation; sometimes it's more a matter of the soloists' stylistic choices. But how you feel about this match of stylistic elements and authenticity will likely impact your experience. It's worth emphasizing: your mileage may vary. And if you aren't attuned to it, or you generally measure in kilometers, you will likely delight in the group's many talents.

One can't reference this many well-written originals for a general audience to relate to, but songs with vibes like Headlock (the Imogen Heap cover) feel perfect for VOXID. Filled with swirls and swells, intricate emotion, and all the bells and whistles of attentive production, this is the group's sweet spot, especially in its gentlest moments. The closer the group's style stays to rock, pop and jazz, the more this talented ensemble feels right at home, and the more we, as an audience, can cheer these singers and their wonderfully bold creativity on!


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Headlock 5
2 Music Ain't My Thing 5
3 Save Your Soul 4
4 No Diggity 5
5 Love Native 5
6 Musical Treasure 5
7 Tears 4
8 Summer Rain 5
9 How Dare You 4
10 I Fade Away 5
11 This Is My Day 5
12 Edge 5
13 I Fade Away REMIX 4

When I reviewed VOXID's self-titled debut EP back in 2016, I was completely blown away with the complexity of the arrangements and the depth of voices on each track despite only having five vocalists in the group. Well, VOXID picked up right where it left off with shades of light, and I could not be more excited.  

Now, before getting into the album, a quick disclaimer: five of the thirteen tracks, such as Musical Treasure and I Fade Away, have been brought over from the EP and have been added to this full-length album. Rather than rehashing those tracks again, you can hop over to my previous review for my thoughts on these tracks. Yet, I am a little conflicted on how I feel about VOXID including the entirety of its first EP onto shades of light. On the one hand, I can see why it would make sense for their fans to have everything on one album so they don't have to switch between the two releases. However, I've always viewed an EP as a separate shorter album, distinct from a full-length release in order to fill some sort of gap — and not necessarily as a precursor to a future release like a single functions. I would have perhaps just included one or two of the previous songs on this record rather than all five. This being said, the first four songs on the album are brand new tracks, so I think VOXID did make the right decision in highlighting those songs right off the bat.

And what a start it is. The group's cover of Imogen Heap's Headlock is simply exquisite from top to bottom. For those not familiar with Imogen Heap, her music is extremely technical and has a lot of moving parts — the background doesn't necessarily follow a strict time signature, with parts changing notes on off beats and pickups throughout the verses — like corn kernels popping into popcorn in a microwave. As a performer, attempting to keep the count in your head while making all of these note changes and staying in sync with the other voice parts is incredibly difficult. Any mistimed note, and that popcorn effect disappears and is lost to the audience. But, VOXID makes this sound so easy and I'm drawn to each and every note — well done! And for those of you that may not be the biggest hip-hop/Blackstreet fans (like myself), make sure that you don't skip track four just because of the song —  No Diggity is a fun track from the start, full of dissonance and groovy vocals from all voice parts. The best way I can describe it is what happens when hip-hop meets jazz — funky and awesome.

One aspect that I did not fully appreciate with the first EP that I now notice on shades of light is the group's incredible song writing. Bass and vocal percussionist Daniel Barke arranged all of the songs for the album, but four out of the five members also wrote the lyrics to at least one of the songs on this album. In total, all but three of the thirteen tracks are original numbers, which is not very common in the a cappella sphere today. Moreover, all of the lyrics are just incredible — from the uplifting and positive in This Is My Day to the emotional and heart-tugging Tears, each song gives me something that I can connect to. Combined with Barke's arrangement, the words jump off the page in the liner notes and I feel as if I am making a personal connection with that songwriter for that track. Even the somewhat ironic lyrics of Music Ain't My Thing makes me wonder how my life could be different if not for the decisions that I've made — even if the decisions were ones that made the most sense at the time. That being said, music seems to be very much Diana's Labrenz's thing, so please don't stop sharing that incredible talent.

With all of these incredible original songs on the album, this is not a release that I would recommend playing for your first listen when you are cleaning your apartment or hosting a dinner party. Rather, really take the time to sit down and listen to the lyrics being sung and see how many personal connections you can make with the lyrics and with the members of VOXID themselves. You'll fall in love with the album that much more — I know I did.

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