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zwo3wir

Purpurblau (2018)

4.0

December 23, 2018

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 Countdown läuft 3.7
2 Desert Rose 4.7
3 Mut zur Lücke 4.3
4 Ampel des Lebens 4.7
5 No Roots 4.0
6 Summa, Sunn und Zärtlichkeit 4.7
7 Wochenschau 3.0
8 Königin sein 4.0
9 Too Close 4.0
10 Das Ende 4.3
11 Hoid mi 4.7
12 Mr. Bojangles 3.3
13 Topfpflanzen 3.7
14 Wie es ist 5.0

Recorded 2018
Total time: 57:29, 14 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Countdown läuft 5
2 Desert Rose 5
3 Mut zur Lücke 4
4 Ampel des Lebens 5
5 No Roots 5
6 Summa, Sunn und Zärtlichkeit 5
7 Wochenschau 5
8 Königin sein 4
9 Too Close 4
10 Das Ende 4
11 Hoid mi 5
12 Mr. Bojangles 4
13 Topfpflanzen 5
14 Wie es ist 5

Zwo3wir brings us wonderful singing and ambitious songwriting on Purpurblau, the group's latest colorfully named recording. Most of the album shines in any context, for any listener. But a few of the more adventurous tracks are probably best viewed as an original cast recording from the group's live show rather than standalone pop.

Countdown läuft is a phenomenal opening track. I love everything about it, especially the intensity. The group follows it up with a first-class cover of Sting's Desert Rose, making it clear that this album is a force to be reckoned with. Soprano Tina Haberfehlner wrote the first tune and arranged the second, laying down her own mark about the music to come. Haberfehlner seems to be the group's writing and arranging mastermind, aided by contributions along the way from alto Judith Fuchslueger, tenor Paul Schörghuber, and Michael Burghofer.

Bass Thomas Mayrhofer brings the drama queen to the table, and I mean that literally. Königin sein, his star turn "to be Queen", starts the second half of the album. It's a placement that acknowledges the tune's central role in the group's live show – it's the featured theme of their web promo – as well as its relative inaccessibility. If you haven't seen the show and/or don't speak German, it just seems like a weird bass/falsetto novelty number where a lot of the notes are sung flat. Which, it kind of is, but after reading the lyrics and studying up on the show, I suspect it works very well in person. Once I started thinking of it as a showtune instead of a pop song, it made a lot more sense.

In contrast, I looked up the lyrics of the cute and catchy Wochenschau fearing the worst. On the face of it, it's a beautifully written and sung ditty about the days of the week. On closer examination, it's a novelty song about leftovers and their unfortunate end. I try to ignore the context as much as possible, because it's a great tune. For comedy, I prefer the Topfpflanzen, about the sad pot garden. The lyrics could be about any kind of plant grown indoors in a container, but I can only think of one kind in particular.

The straight up pop jams are my personal favorites, especially the originals. In addition to the album opener, there's also Summa, Sunn und Zärtlichkeit and Hoid mi, which are both light-hearted fun. Both also showcase the best of the group's tuning and production abilities, as does the stomping cover of No Roots. The more acoustic parts of this recording sound a little airless to me, with every intonation hiccup out where you can see it, while the poppier tracks have some wiggle room in the layers and come off wonderfully.

Overall, Purpurblau is a great record and I recommend it. Take a spin, and see what you think.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Countdown läuft 4
2 Desert Rose 5
3 Mut zur Lücke 5
4 Ampel des Lebens 4
5 No Roots 5
6 Summa, Sunn und Zärtlichkeit 5
7 Wochenschau 2
8 Königin sein 5
9 Too Close 5
10 Das Ende 5
11 Hoid mi 5
12 Mr. Bojangles 3
13 Topfpflanzen 3
14 Wie es ist 5

Zwo3wir is a five-person group from Vienna, Austria; their name translates as "two-three-us". Which obviously fits, given they are two women and three men. Their vocal parts are what you might expect: vocal percussion, bass, tenor, alto, and soprano.

The group kindly provided the reviewers with the German lyrics and English translations for all the German songs, which was a good thing since many of their German songs weren't in Hochdeutsch (High German), the standard for spoken and written German, but rather in Wienerisch, i.e. the Viennese dialect, which I have heard before but have never seen written out that I can recall. It really is a lot of fun for me to follow along, having lived as a child in Vienna but having only really learned to speak and read Hochdeutsch. I really hope the group makes these transcriptions and translations available on its website for others. The liner notes in the physical album itself are sadly quite lacking, not even providing a list of group members let alone acknowledging the group members as songwriters as the translations do (which credit group members as the authors of all but one of the German songs).

Purpurblau ("Purple Blue") is an interesting and fun album. Wienerisch compared to Hochdeutsch has always sounded to me a bit like Australian compared to American English, so it's perhaps not coincidental that the album reminded me a lot of Home Brew by Australian group Suade. Like that album, Purpurblau is full of original compositions, clever lyrics, catchy tunes, group members who aren't afraid to poke fun at themselves, and a few poignant moments that are enhanced by the use of dialect and local idioms. For example, from Das Ende ("The End"), written by Michael Burghofer, we have in Wienerisch: "Is des des Ende von der Gschicht? San meine Toge leicht scho zählt? Wo kum i her? Wo geh' i hin? Stimmt's, dass i boid scho nimmer bin? Wer kann's ma sogn? Wen kann i frogn?" Which I would translate as: "Is this the end of the story? Are my days already numbered? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Is it true that I soon will not have been? Who can say? Whom can I ask?" These are soul searching questions in a melodically beautiful song about depression.

Another poignant song in dialect is Hoid mi ("Hold Me"), written by Tina Haberfehlner. This song opts out of vocal percussion and effectively uses block chords to add to an intimate, pleading feeling: "Hold on, just hold on. Hold still, don't talk. Hold, hold me, hold my life. Hold on, hold still, hold me! I'll keep quiet for you, hold your chin up, back you up. I'll keep up with you, stay the course for you ... and you please hold me."

Most of the album is more upbeat, though, with two back-to-back examples falling in tracks three and four. Mut zur Lücke, written by Judith Fuchslueger, is a German idiom they translate as "embrace the gaps", which refers to taking courage from the things you do know and understand instead of getting down by all of the gaps in your knowledge. It's a catchy doo-wop-y sort of tune by Judith Fuchslueger. Ampel des Lebens ("Traffic Lights of Life"), written by Tina Haberfehlner, is more contemporary. It has subdued verses but breaks into exuberant choruses that teach us, "Red! Make a stop for love! Amber! A thousand beams of warm sunshine! And if your everyday life drives you crazy, there will be Green! Everlasting hope."

Another upbeat song is Summa, Sunn und Zärtlichkeit ("Summer, Sun and Tenderness"), sung in a reggae style in Wienerisch. There's something about hearing a reggae song sung in German dialect that automatically makes me smile. But perhaps the most smile-inducing track is Königin sein ("To Be Queen"), written by Michael Burghofer with a solo by the bass (I assume), Thomas Mayrhofer. It's the story of how the bass dreams of singing a different (higher) part and being a different person. I love the rhythm and flow of the lyric "Königin der Nacht" ("queen of the night") in the chorus, and Mayrhofer's falsetto surprisingly goes up to a high B-flat (meaning an octave and a half step above A-440)!

Not all of the album is sunshine and roses, though. I have a hard time stomaching (ha ha) the depiction in Wochenschau ("Newsreel") of the intestinal discomfort that follows a week of leftovers, particularly since they include all the sound effects you might imagine. Mr. Bojangles is also quite odd, not so much the singing itself, but more just the question of fit with the rest of the album. The other English songs fare better in this regard, with No Roots (Alice Merton cover) being simply fantastic. I wasn't previously familiar with the song but absolutely love the bass line with its syncopated string bass feel. And the group's English is good, with no especially jarring accents.

So, is the album perfect? No. But is it enjoyable? Absolutely.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Countdown läuft 2
2 Desert Rose 4
3 Mut zur Lücke 4
4 Ampel des Lebens 5
5 No Roots 2
6 Summa, Sunn und Zärtlichkeit 4
7 Wochenschau 2
8 Königin sein 3
9 Too Close 3
10 Das Ende 4
11 Hoid mi 4
12 Mr. Bojangles 3
13 Topfpflanzen 3
14 Wie es ist 5

After the group's strong debut album in 2015 with Smaragdrot, Austrian ensemble zwo3wir is back with its sophomore release, Purpurblau. While the former featured almost all covers, this new release only features a select few from artists such as Sting and Alice Merton. The majority of the album is original songs written in German, showing a new side of the group and their evolution as a cappella artists. While I enjoy many of these original songs immensely, there are a few moments throughout the album that catch me off guard ... and not necessarily in a good way.

Let's start with the positives. Again, the original song writing is definitely one of the highlights of the record as a whole. Many of the tracks follow one of two themes — either a funny story that is being told by the group, or a track that is more emotionally personal. The latter is showcased in the track Ampel des Lebens, which translates to "Traffic Lights of Life". Soloist and writer Tina Haberfehlner speaks to some of the challenges that all of us face on a daily basis, and how we can overcome those challenges through love (red), positive energy (yellow), and everlasting hope (green). The message is fantastic, and Haberfehlner delivers an emotional and uplifting solo that I'll definitely come back to after a tough day at work. Michael Burghofer also gets involved in the songwriting, penning the gorgeous closing track Wie es ist ("As It Is"), reminding the listener that even though a chapter may be ending and this is sometimes sad, it's important to remember that we had this chapter to begin with and that we can look back on these memories with a smile on our face.

As I mentioned earlier, however, some of the tracks provide some surprises that take a little bit away from the rest of the album. The cover of No Roots is one of the weaker tracks, with both the background and Haberfehlner's solo feeling a bit choppy, particularly in the choruses. The group's decision to try and replicate the synthesizer in the bridge leading into the final chorus is the big issue I have with this track. It's very jarring to the ear, and doesn't capture the feeling that the original track was trying to convey. If there was no easy way to sing around it, then I think that it would have been better to just skip over that part since it's quite a difficult part to replicate vocally, particularly in a group this small. The opening track, Countdown Läuft ("Countdown Started"), lands a little flat for me as well. Now, I am no person to critique anyone on their rap abilities — I am quite terrible at rapping, and know that I am never going to win a rap battle against anyone. But, the energy in the verses and the energy in the backgrounds do not sound like they are on the same level to me, with some verses sounding a little robotic, almost like they are being read off the page in the studio rather than being delivered with conviction and passion.

And then there is Wochenschau ("Culinary Newsreel"). Now, the song is a funny story centering around what sometimes happens when you're low on food on a Friday night at home, and what could possibly happen when you start combining things that shouldn't be combined. In the final chorus, some of the members start making sounds imitating those getting sick, which would have been a funny moment if it only happened a couple of times. But, the joke gets out of control and overshadows the last chorus completely. I understand that it's supposed to be funny, and I don't think it was a bad idea, but sometimes less is more in these situations.

Overall, the group makes some major strides from its first album, and I look forward to listening to album number three when it comes out. But, until then, I'm not sure if the whole of Purpurblau will get another listen from me.

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