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Exit 245

James Madison University

903 (2019)

4.3

July 30, 2020

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.7
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 4.3
Tracks
1 Home Alone 4.7
2 Get You (Neu Roses) 4.0
3 Lost In Japan 4.3
4 She's On My Mind 4.3
5 Pray 3.7
6 G-Train 4.3
7 Tequila 4.0
8 YoungBlood 4.3
9 Saturday Nights 4.7
10 715-CRƩƩKS 4.3
11 Deja Vu 4.3
12 903 4.0

Recorded 2018 – 2019
Total time: 44:03, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Home Alone 4
2 Get You (Neu Roses) 4
3 Lost In Japan 4
4 She's On My Mind 4
5 Pray 4
6 G-Train 4
7 Tequila 3
8 YoungBlood 4
9 Saturday Nights 4
10 715-CRƩƩKS 4
11 Deja Vu 3
12 903 4

When you pick up any Exit 245 album, you're always in for a good time. 903 brings us what we're after: a solid mix of funky uptempo summer jams, soulful R&B, and pining ballads from reliably enjoyable Exit 245.

Scan the track list and you might find it all a bit expected for a male-identifying collegiate group, but these leads rise to the occasion and the production complements the source material beautifully so stay open minded. Home Alone epitomizes this well: it's big, it's exciting, there's fancy bits, there's a steady groove. What more do you require from an opener? Get You (Neu Roses) demonstrates the commitment each lead brings to these songs: bold falsetto right out of the gate, and a silky style that sets the mood. This is a frontman who can finesse his work with impressive precision and authority. Already the group has established that this album is just going to roll on through with nods of approval for the execution and flair.

But oh! Lost In Japan shakes things up a bit with its organic sound effects and natural bounce, before pivoting back to another funky R&B jam with She's On My Mind. Things shift again with Pray, which is a sonic delight; the rich bari-bass timbre from the soloist makes his technical work even more poignant. I bet this one absolutely grips the room when sung live.

Some of these tracks are hot as fire at the top, but congratulations to the voice or two singing bass at the bottom, because yowza, you are keeping this party going past curfew. The bass line for G-Train sounds like an actual locomotive in motion, without any of the corniness that statement may have evoked for you, with a lead who has intense passion and purpose. Didn't think G-Train could create such emotional depth, but here we are, thinking about love.

On the other hand, Tequila just doesn't work. I like the energy the group puts into shaping this one and carrying these nostalgic words, but it's just not for these particular voices who are better suited to other genres. I'm tempted to blame the song, if I may.

YoungBlood, Saturday Nights and Creeks are equally effective, despite the wildly varying styles, tempos, and themes. That Exit 245 can shift so seamlessly here speaks again to the group's reliability. Rehearse a lot, and get results like this. The last two pieces sound more like group favorites, a place to showcase and play. Nothing wrong with either — and everyone appreciates original a cappella works — but nothing too memorable. 

As it relates to the arrangements, this same "nothing too memorable" note is what's keeping all these "4"s from bumping up to "5"s. Each song is servicably penned, but not creatively so. Everyone is singing the heck out of their notes, but will I tell other a cappella fans "You must hear Exit 245's version — so innovative!" Probably not. Strong leads and clean production alone can't do that without more imagination behind the interpretation for the backgrounds. 

903 is very easy to enjoy, like the big blockbuster that drops each summer. Press play and dance along. 

 


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Home Alone 5
2 Get You (Neu Roses) 4
3 Lost In Japan 5
4 She's On My Mind 5
5 Pray 4
6 G-Train 5
7 Tequila 5
8 YoungBlood 5
9 Saturday Nights 5
10 715-CRƩƩKS 5
11 Deja Vu 5
12 903 4

Exit 245 knocks it out of the park with its latest album, 903. These guys are just on throughout: every singer sounds engaged, every arrangement moves, and the album spits out memorable performance after memorable performance.

The album jumps in with a splash with Home Alone, which has the energy to be immediately engaging; of course, on the brink of publishing this review (and long after the group's recording was complete), original performer Ansel Elgort has been accused of sexually assaulting a minor, so it feels weird for me to praise the song — but Exit 245's performance is energetic and immediately hooks the listener. The arrangement is written by Class of 2020 tenor Leif Jomuad, who is responsible for many of the arrangements on 903, and that consistency is apparent: She's On My Mind is especially compelling — this song keeps the uptempo club feel of the JP Cooper original, but the vocal-only version adds a sultry urgency. The "mmm-ma-ma-ma" syllables on Saturday Nights are unusual enough to pique and maintain my interest but do not distract from Kishan Rao's beautiful solo. The fact that Exit 245 can capture both the pop energy of YoungBlood and the resonance and emotion behind 715-CRƩƩKS (with its exquisite phrasing) really speaks to the group's ability to deliver compelling performances across the breadth of its repertoire.

If all of these covers weren't enough, Exit 245 closes the album with its first-ever original tune, 903. The performance is warm, heartfelt, and personal (the group's street address is 903 South High Street), and the song both flows from the rest of the album and serves as a lovely closer to this diverse collection of tunes.

The production here is clean and simple; there's not a lot of overt studio wizardry or glitchy sound effects, making 903 sound crisp and timeless. One thing that keeps me coming back is that every time I listen to this album, a different track becomes my new favorite. Every single listen leaves me saying, "No, this one is the best" about a different song, and these songs all left their hooks in my memory, drawing me back to listen again and again, making 903 a memorable and engaging listen.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Home Alone 5
2 Get You (Neu Roses) 4
3 Lost In Japan 4
4 She's On My Mind 4
5 Pray 3
6 G-Train 4
7 Tequila 4
8 YoungBlood 4
9 Saturday Nights 5
10 715-CRƩƩKS 4
11 Deja Vu 5
12 903 4

With the release of Prototype, I praised Exit 245 for making creative decisions with its arranging and thought that the group was onto something. So, upon listening to 903, I am a little disappointed to see that Exit 245 hasn't kept its forward momentum. I'm not saying that the album itself is disappointing by any means, but it does seem like it's a step backwards from where the group was a few years ago.

Despite the more traditional arranging style, what can not be taken away from Exit 245 is the quality singing on each track. Combined with excellent production by James Gammon, the group delivers stellar vocals on every song that are always providing the musical support needed for the soloist to shine. Each voice part blends beautifully with each other, which is exactly what I expect from these guys. While there are a number of tracks that stand out, Beyonce's Déjà Vu is simply sensational. Garrett Thompson's solo line is incredible, demonstrating great control and range up in his falsetto, particularly in the choruses. The group did deviate from the original, replacing the second rap with a call and response scat breakdown that is very well done. Kishan Rao does a stellar job with Saturday Nights, showcasing both a tenderness on the verses and a great belt on that final chorus. 

I think the group as a whole really stands out on 715-CRƩƩKS. Not only is it beautifully sung, the group does a really nice job playing with dynamics throughout the whole song. The whole arrangement does grow in volume and intensity from start to finish, reaching its peak on a nice little crescendo and sliding on "all I'm trying to do is get up from the creeks". In addition to the phrasing in the song, there's much attention paid to crescendos/decrescendos in individual lines as well, such as the preceding line to the one above, which is a welcome thing to hear and something that all groups and singers can learn from.

If there's one song that I think is weaker than the others, I would point to Pray. Soloist Giovanni Beatty delivers an emotional and raw solo that's beautiful and fits the song well. However, some of the high jumps in the second verse and chorus are quite significant, and Beatty doesn't quite hit the notes without sounding like he's straining to get them. Then, there's the bridge, where I am a little puzzled about the decision to add multiple breaks in the background vocals through the first half of that section. It seems a little out of place, particularly with the sustained bass returning in the second half.

This being said, Exit 245 has once again put out a release that will be one of my favorites at year's end. Besides the sheer vocal talent and the musicality that each and every guy in this group has, you can hear the passion and the love that each member has for what they are doing. That doesn't always happen with album releases, and it's why I continue to listen to Exit 245 albums over and over again.

 


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