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The Midnight Ramblers

University of Rochester

Things That You Say (2021)

4.0

April 29, 2022

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.7
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 Eleonora 3.3
2 Ain't No Sunshine 4.0
3 Take On Me 4.7
4 Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough 4.0
5 Goodbyes / Circles 3.7
6 Teeth 3.7
7 Blessed 5.0
8 Way Down We Go / Too Close 3.3
9 Redbone 4.7
10 God is a Woman 4.0
11 Hard Place / No Air 3.7
12 And Many More 4.0

Recorded 2021
Total time: 43:57, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Eleonora 3
2 Ain't No Sunshine 4
3 Take On Me 5
4 Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough 4
5 Goodbyes / Circles 3
6 Teeth 4
7 Blessed 5
8 Way Down We Go / Too Close 3
9 Redbone 4
10 God is a Woman 3
11 Hard Place / No Air 3
12 And Many More 3

Listen up, because this is a pretty refreshing release. Things That You Say is stuffed with real, authentic singing from top to bottom. It sort of sounds like an extended stage competition set, and everything you'd encounter from your seat: legit dynamics, pronounced transitions, big breaths, bursts of wobbly pitches, bursts of balance issues, locked power chords, shifting tempos, shifting energy levels, growing audience excitement, huge leads that can hit the rafter notes, and formal ta-da endings. All of this makes sense, given that tracks two, three, and four do indeed come from the group's (2020) ICCA set. Furthermore, regarding the somewhat unpolished (but again, sincerely refreshing) vocally-authentic sound, our submission notes say this release was recorded at a university hall and produced by Liquid 5th. If you're an audiophile, the soundscape here is a harder sell. If you love jubilant ensemble singing with musicians who are audibly working together to bring the piece to life, Things That You Say is especially for you.

My only head-scratchers are the bookends. Eleonora is a very brazen, though brief, welcome-to-the-show piece. It's also wildly auto-tuned and doesn't relate to the rest of the album, if our job is still in fact to consider album cohesion in the era of streaming. It's nice to start with a punch, but not just because it's fun to throw punches. And skipping to the end now, kind of a strange closer after this pop-centric album, no? I am left to reason that its inclusion means a lot to the group.

Back to the rest. The story of Ain't No Sunshine is the richly striking bass on lead, Joel Omino. Not many voices so instantly captivate. You'll hear Omino throughout Things That You Say, because there's no way you'll miss him. The arrangement framing Omino is simple, but eerie, complementing his style very well. The mood is right, and many poignant moments are created. Even more impactful is the group's creative spin on Take On Me. I couldn't even guess the song until the lead softly landed from a sky of fresh harmonies. The whole piece unrolls as raw, and fascinating, wrapped in melancholy with genuine pleading from the voices. I am left continually and pleasantly surprised. Even with the intonation issues, a clear "5" for transforming an iconic piece. Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough finishes out that 2020 ICCA set, a a delightfully quirky romp. The group is having fun: sometimes you lose that with too much studio magic, but on Things That You Say, fun comes through without issue.

The mid-piece selections are just fine. Not as strong as the ICCA set, but I'll come back to them from time to time. I'll probably put Blessed on my permanent rotation, though. Such a delicate, vulnerable lead from Ozor Kumi. Beautiful accents from the bass keep an organic pulse. Blessed moves along as a soft ballad before blossoming into a spiritual with strength. Have I mentioned that the primary arranger for Things That You Say (music director Ben Emmerich) has got this game figured out?

There are some so-so performances toward the end; nothing wrong, but missing some of the creative flair The Midnight Ramblers so ably demonstrated in other pieces (is it selfish to want more of a good thing?). Redbone is the strongest of the final pieces, and as a bonus, you'll get to hear Emmerich on the lead microphone.

We don't hear many submissions like Things That You Say anymore. I'm glad to have the real energy and unmistakable vocals of a fine collegiate a cappella group back in my headphones.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Eleonora 4
2 Ain't No Sunshine 4
3 Take On Me 5
4 Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough 4
5 Goodbyes / Circles 4
6 Teeth 3
7 Blessed 5
8 Way Down We Go / Too Close 3
9 Redbone 5
10 God is a Woman 4
11 Hard Place / No Air 4
12 And Many More 5

The imagination of an artist can be just as instrumental to a project as the artist's actual talent. For the Midnight Ramblers of the University of Rochester, the group's sense of imagination is displayed seamlessly on the album Things That You Say. And while the vocal group has a firm footing artistically, the efforts made to support these ideas both vocally and with production tend to waver at times throughout the project.

Many groups tend to miss the mark with ballads and songs that require a softer touch. Not the Midnight Ramblers! Their superpower on Things That You Say is tapping into a deeply emotional place and unleashing it in a heartrending fashion.

The first glimpse of this comes on Take On Me. Instead of '80s synth-pop, listeners are treated to a gentler and more harrowing rendition. Cooper Orio's lead vocals are captivating and get more impressive as the song progresses, displaying conviction whether he's attacking the solo softly or with power during the song's climax. And the entire experience is only furthered by the charisma of the backing group who stay in step with the lead throughout.

Blessed invokes similar sentiments as the neo-soul track just feels warm and comforting. What else can you say about an arrangement that is ripe with immaculate chord selection and execution, graceful pacing, and harmonies that will have you shouting, "have mercy!" Nothing is forced, allowing the feelings to flow organically. The song is truly a spiritual experience. And even with the production effects on Redbone, the track's silky-smooth vibe and vocals are never lost on listeners. The Ramblers' ability to play with rhythm and maintain a high level of blend, while bringing a new dynamic to a widely popular song, is beyond words.

And the high-energy tracks on Things That You Say offer a great deal as well. Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough has a fascinating groove, tantalizing production effects, and feels unique without trying to copy Michael Jackson. And there's no denying the passion and cinematic expression felt by the group on God Is a Woman. The Ramblers know how to milk a moment.

While it's easy to get starry-eyed by the album's standout moments, it's hard to completely ignore some of its hang-ups. When the Ramblers try to mix genres like Way Down We Go / Too Close, things can get a bit shaky in the execution, not to mention, the singing can come off as timid. There are similar concerns with cohesion on Goodbyes / Circles. In the case of Teeth, the overall track is a missing a spark. Improvements can be made to enunciation, blend, and delivery.

At times, the ambitiousness of the Ramblers works in their favor on Things That You Say, and in other cases, works against them. But their big moments have the power to stop you in your tracks and deliver real artistic impact. For this reason, the album is worth a listen.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Eleonora 3
2 Ain't No Sunshine 4
3 Take On Me 4
4 Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough 4
5 Goodbyes / Circles 4
6 Teeth 4
7 Blessed 5
8 Way Down We Go / Too Close 4
9 Redbone 5
10 God is a Woman 5
11 Hard Place / No Air 4
12 And Many More 4

This album reminds me of a small child at a hotel's continental breakfast waffle bar. There is so much excitement to see a beautiful golden waffle and think about all the different toppings. Each of them is delicious individually, so why not add them all? It's about halfway through breakfast that they realize that strawberries, peanut butter, and maple syrup don't quite go well together. Things That You Say is a collection of so many good ideas all jammed into a limited number of songs; at times, they get in their own way rather than deliver a compelling story.

Let's look at this in real-time. I love the opening groove of Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough. The groove shares a lot of the stylistic elements of the Michael Jackson original while still adding a spin on the piece that makes it really interesting for the listener. However, the second verse sounds like electronic sound manipulation over a salsa beat. Said sound is then abandoned as quickly as it begins to return to the original style, but allows the groove to grow and evolve. This trend of drastically changing from loud impacts and smooth grooves permeates the rest of the track. If you listen to this piece in fifteen-second chunks, all the chunks sound great. However, they create a distracting and confusing overall effect on the end product.

By comparison, God is a Woman has much better mapping for the piece. Throughout the song, the focus remains on Jack Bell's solo, which is simultaneously haunting and strong. Every background acts as an embellishment of the solo. The piece has natural flow, even as chords and rhythms become more complex and prominent. Ben Emmerich did a phenomenal job arranging this piece, as it keeps the listener engaged. Not every moment in a piece can be the most important, but a piece with too many moments isn't important at all. This is an example of how to perfectly map the moments to give them the most impact.

At the end caps of this album, we get the songs Eleonora and And Many More. These pieces are both short by comparison to the others. There is nothing wrong with having a short piece. However, these pieces are short on direction. Eleonora does little to set the stage for the album, and And Many More attempts to add a sense of finality to the album, but instead feels like a prolonged goodbye. Both songs have plenty of potential, but they should exist as a way for the group to establish themselves. Instead, they feel closer to just existing.

If we return to the waffle bar analogy, it falls upon the group to fully understand the flavor they want to enjoy while standing at the waffle maker. There are no bad flavors across this album. Even my least favorite grooves would have likely been very effective if they were extended across the length of a song. The constant changes and desire to have every flavor all at once causes mixing and matching that significantly affects the overall product. I would love to hear the group pick the style for each track and really dig into it — to understand what's possible, and then deliver.


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Ordering Information

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