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Ransom Notes

University of Chicago

quit (2022)

4.3

July 15, 2022

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 quit 4.3
2 mother 4.0
3 the good in me 4.3
4 insomnia 5.0

Recorded 2021 – 2022
Total time: 11:13, 4 songs


TeKay
4
Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 quit 5
2 mother 3
3 the good in me 4
4 insomnia 5

Even though I've spent the past twenty years singing in male-identifying groups, I still have a strong penchant and love for mixed-gendered singing groups. It is truly my preferred listening experience. So I am smitten with the latest endeavor by the University of Chicago Ransom Notes. They've captured my heart over the past few years with inventive arrangements and strong musicality. Those traits are still on display here. As they sing of not being able to quit their hellacious relationships, I can't quit them, nor can I forget the joy that I feel listening to them perform on this EP.

quit as an opening track is exactly what this recording needs. It is atmospheric, expansive, and introduces the rest of the album very well. Without looking, I'm assuming that this is an ICCA set from the past three seasons that was blessed with studio enhancements. That's what it sounds like and seems to indicate; it establishes the theme and previews exactly what you are in for from a plot aspect of storytelling.

What it doesn't do well is indicate that the next track, mother, would not be as engaging or energetic, though it fits exceptionally well thematically. After the all-enveloping aspect of quit, this track seems a little pedestrian and bare — virginal, if you will. Out of context, the song is a bit of bop; I found myself nodding along and enjoying moments. The Ransom Notes do not seem as invested in this track as they are in the others, especially the good in me. I don't know if the latter's arrangement is that much better than the former, but the group performs the good in me as if there is a lot more meat on the bones to chew through.

And then we come to the closer, and all manner of maschismo and sex appeal and bravado comes pouring out of the speaker. insomnia seems to hit all the right buttons. The wailing in the middle of the track by Maggie Bader is right on target. Wonyoung Jang's arrangement is subtle but multifaceted; there are little elements throughout that just uplift the song in such an amazing way.

Like a bad habit (especially the one by Ben Platt should have been one of the tracks), you'll be hard-pressed to quit the Ransom Notes just as much as I am after listening to this recording.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 quit 5
2 mother 5
3 the good in me 5
4 insomnia 5

quit by The University of Chicago Ransom Notes features heartfelt, emotionally moving soloists and clever, intricate arrangements. The four-song EP gives us a popular mix of songs ranging from Cashmere Cat and Ariana Grande to Charlie Puth, Jon Bellion, and Daya. The production work by Ed Boyer and Dave Sperandio is a flawless match for the level of talent that The Ransom Notes are well known for bringing to the stage and the microphone — and the results are glorious.

The EP begins with a forceful, albeit brief, interpretation of quit arranged by vocal percussionist Wonyoung Jang. The arrangement, coupled with impassioned solo performances by Saoirse Ryan, Maggie Bader, and Nick Auen, deftly captures the regretful nature of the original. Transitioning from 4/4 to 6/8 through the end is an excellent arranging choice that allows the energy to continue without breaking, right into the next track. mother contains plenty of tasteful twists and turns, such as transforming the track into a duet between Auen and Alexis Gaw, adding another layer of complexity to the track that highlights the sense of regret and growing self-awareness that pervades quit.

One of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists, the good in me checks all the boxes for me personally. The production by Boyer and Jared Pollard is fittingly electronic in nature and, combined with arranging work and solo performance by Ryan, make this far and away my favorite track on the EP. quit concludes with a forceful take on insomnia by Daya. Bursting with intensity, this track ties the entire EP together in a very satisfying way for the listener. Returning to quit for the coda section, The Ransom Notes finally say outright what they've been hinting at throughout their EP:

Yeah, I'm gonna regret it
I know I'm gonna regret it

Good luck trying to "quit" The Ransom Notes; they're not going to make it easy for you. But will you regret it if you choose to stay and listen? I highly doubt that.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 quit 3
2 mother 4
3 the good in me 4
4 insomnia 5

This is an album I was highly looking forward to. The Ransom Notes have been a steadily improving group over the past few years. I reviewed them last year and noted there was room for improvement, but a lot of potential. quit is the follow-up opportunity to show that growth.

This four-song EP starts off on a bit of a sour note for me. I've never been overly fond of transition tracks that exist purely to set up the next song. As a standalone track, quit lacks a story. There is no climax to the piece; it exists as an attention-grabber, attempting to summarize the entirety of what I'm assuming is an ICCA competition set and flow seamlessly into the first full track. However, the setup into mother takes a bit of a misstep. First, the track starts in a different key; secondly, there are entire musical themes that only exist for the first fifteen seconds and never exist again. It's hard to say that a track should just be cut outright from an album after so much work is put into it. However, if the first thirty seconds are giving the listener a glimpse of everything to expect, there are some pacing and flow issues to consider.

mother and the good in me are a pretty solid offerings, but they blur together a bit. That doesn't surprise me too much, as they are both arranged by Saoirse Ryan. Ryan's arranging style is driven by the bass and vocal percussion, with the remaining backing voices often flowing around the soloist to help support. There are some very lush chords that appear that I am quite fond of; however, the climax of both pieces is a bit lacking. The bridge in both songs does a great job of dropping the dynamic, but the climax does little to bring the dynamic and energy past what was given in the first chorus. If dynamics are a series of peaks and valleys, both look more similar to a pulse at times, with higher and lower dynamics present, but sometimes changing quickly and only for a short period of time. There are some great ideas, including the digital arpeggios throughout the good in me, but they don't feel like a fully formulated and perfectly executed presentation.

insomnia is my favorite track and also the track that I feel is fully complete with all the right elements. Wonyoung Jang's arrangement is full of twists and turns while driving towards a point, and the group's execution is dense and filled with lots of different colors and textures. Maggie Bader's solo continues to grow and evolve with the music. It begins as dark and haunting before evolving to more powerful and just dripping with emotion. I have no notes to offer to this piece, only compliments. It's a phenomenal way to end an album.

After multiple listens to quit as I write the review, I find myself wanting to hear a full-length album again by this group. A larger body of work might soften some of the minor missteps and prove that the group is deserving of the highest markings. All the pieces are here for the group, but aren't delivered consistently. I will continue to wait patiently for the next release from the Ransom Notes, because I think they're going to release something special very soon.


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