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Boston College Dynamics

Boston College

No Lows, Pt. II (2020)

3.3

September 7, 2021

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 3.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 3.3
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 2.7
Tracks
1 Cheap Thrills 3.7
2 Weight in Gold 3.7
3 Big Spender 3.7
4 Electric Love 3.3

Recorded 2019 – 2020
Total time: 13:57, 4 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Cheap Thrills 4
2 Weight in Gold 3
3 Big Spender 4
4 Electric Love 4

If you're entering this musical story from the Dynamics mid-chapter, here's the timeline. The original No Lows EP dropped in 2019. This EP, No Lows, Pt. II, arrived in 2020. And No Lows, Pt. III dropped but days ago. There's long-range financial planning, and apparently, long-range a cappella planning. This was a smart move from the Dynamics, who give us 4-packs of well-crafted tunes at a time — what's not to love about built-in anticipation? Both the music and the album covers create a cohesive package despite the multi-year span. 

The execution of Pt. II is mostly ripe for praise. It's never a bad idea to kick off your release with a dance party, and that's what happens with Cheap Thrills. If you're familiar with Sia's work, you may wonder if the Dynamics chose to replicate the tricky tropical reggae vibe; the answer is yes, and to answer your second question, they do indeed pull it off convincingly. Big praise to Mel Daneke for both the creative arrangement and the skillful production — the personality of this interpretation is straight from Daneke. 

I can't say that Weight in Gold is as compelling. Gabriel Santos delivers a very likeable and stylish lead, but the arrangement needs more polish and advanced composition ideas. The background is so open and loose — texture-building through an increase of independent moving lines would certainly help. 

The snap is back for the second half of Pt. II. Big Spender is delightful fun — you'll love the boppin' bounce and crisply delivered leads from sizzling trio Melina Donnelly, Claire Fitzpatrick, and Ian Goodman. The closer, Electric Love, is full of complex and gorgeous details, like a good relationship should be. The way that lead Emma Roney achingly scoops up into the chorus, so help me. And the harmonies as the song pleads on, goosebumps all over. Ever replay a new song immediately so you don't have to leave the space? That's Electric Love.

Let the journey continue...


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Cheap Thrills 4
2 Weight in Gold 4
3 Big Spender 3
4 Electric Love 3

There is a little bit of everything you want in the latest EP by the Boston College Dynamics, including some inspired arranging and strong solo work, bouyed by masterful studio work by Mel Daneke and Viridian Productions. Unfortunately, the bright spots are too few and far between, and the result is an uneven offering. The lack of boldness and clear vision by the BC Dynamics in past albums still plague the group in No Lows, Pt. II.

The EP gets off to an exciting (albeit abrupt) start with Cheap Thrills. Daneke's professional arrangement with exciting mashup moments lends significant intrigue, and the background vocals kick off with some solid blending and balance. The arrangement itself is the star of the show here. Written by a seasoned professional arranger, the opening track sets a very high bar that is not reached on the remainder of the release.

If I were to use one word to describe Big Spender, it would be jarring. It's not that explicit-language songs don't belong in recorded a cappella. But the a cappella medium is considerably more intimate and this arrangement and performance feature largely rounder articulations and a softer timbre than their counterparts in the original, resulting in a disconnect that leaves the adeptly-sung solo sounding more exposed.

This EP is not lacking in consonant sounds, especially in Weight in Gold and Electric Love. In the case of the latter, the final product emphasizes middle frequencies to such an extreme that more prominent melody lines seem to get lost. It's unclear whether this is an issue with the arrangement, group balance, or in tracking/production. But it overshadows some of the otherwise skillful dynamic work in the final track.

As has been the case in previous albums, No Lows, Pt. II has a smattering of good sounds. While certainly on the right track, the Boston College Dynamics could continue to incorporate more original ideas into their arrangements which would result in more fully fleshed-out and unified concepts.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Cheap Thrills 3
2 Weight in Gold 4
3 Big Spender 4
4 Electric Love 3

Rather than produce one full-length album, the Boston College Dynamics have chosen to split No Lows across three short EPs released in three separate years. While the album's title promises no lows, there are also relatively few highs among the four songs on Part II.

The album sounds good, but flat in several respects. The Dynamics tune and blend well as a group, though ironically, the singers could use more dynamic levels and contrasts. Mel Daneke & Viridian Productions and Dave Sperandio make smart production choices, aside from the overly muffled background vocals in Cheap Thrills. Nikolai Darenkov delivers solid vp across the album to keep the group stable, and is careful not to pull focus by doing too much. Soloists generally fit the songs and bring vocal and emotional energy, but too often the rest of the group fails to match them. For example, Melina Donnelly and Ian Goodman's no-nonsense charisma on the explicit Big Spender feels disjunct from the rest of the group's easy-breezy vibes. Similarly, the background vocals at times sound almost sleepy on Cheap Thrills when they should be providing rhythmic intensity behind the seductive stylings of Christina Solitro and Elyse Mackenzie.

The major issue here is the too-safe song selection and arranging. None of the majority mid-tempo tracks build to a grand climactic moment, though Weight in Gold, the slowest of the bunch, comes the closest in its attempt. There are moments of originality or creativity where the arrangers take advantage of the a cappella medium, particularly during Weight in Gold arranged by Taylor Smith and Big Spender's build to the final chorus arranged by Mel Daneke. But the album primarily consists of emulatory arranging where the vocal-only sound does not live up to the expectations set by the songs the Dynamics cover. Electric Love has been flattened into a pleasant, ho-hum track that's missing the dynamic texture and soaring vocals that helped the BØRNS original go viral. Cheap Thrills, bogged down by long tones in the low range, lacks the spark that makes the song thrilling.

No Lows, Pt. II is an average EP that could be a good one with some arranging tweaks and an upbeat track or two. But the issues with musicality and energy run deeper. I hope the group can regain some dynamism in future releases.


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Ordering Information

No Lows, Pt. II streams on Spotify.

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