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The University of Chicago

I Tried To Love You (2023)


December 30, 2023

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 4.0
1 Orpheus 4.3
2 Moderation 4.0
3 Oh My God 4.7
4 Slow Dancing in the Dark 4.3
5 Take Me to Church 4.0
6 Erase Me 4.3
7 Bad Friend 4.3

Recorded 2022
Total time: 22:57, 7 songs

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
1 Orpheus 4
2 Moderation 4
3 Oh My God 5
4 Slow Dancing in the Dark 4
5 Take Me to Church 4
6 Erase Me 4
7 Bad Friend 4

Founded in 1989 under the name 'Unaccompanied Women', Cadenza is the oldest a cappella group at the University of Chicago.

I had no idea.

There's something timeless about the a cappella scene at the University of Chicago; it's certainly one of the campuses where original, generative a cappella is born, the kind other groups will mimic because it's too cool not to re-cover. Within seconds of I Tried To Love You's unfolding ethereal Orpheus, my first reaction was "Ooo". That's kind of the story here from top to bottom — lots of big arranging and production moments that leave you without words because you're hearing new ideas for the first time. Apparently, that's just the University of Chicago way.

Much succeeds, but one area is up for debate. Production is hand-crafted here by a cappella artisans Holland, Trembinski, Boyer, and Hare, who worked overtime to give us a little of everything. Will you like it? That's too personal to assume; there's nothing moderate about the bass dished up in Moderation. But how fantastic to hear the sonic space shoved out a few more feet in Oh My God. The standard debate prompts apply, including what this would possibly sound like live, and what would it possibly sound like recorded naturally: would it be too plain? If you stand back to marvel, it sounds awesome. If you lean in to analyze, it can get dangerous.

One area we should all agree on: Cadenza has made arrangement innovation a top priority. All of the covers on I Tried To Love You are reimagined quite boldly. The most polarizing portrayal is undoubtedly Take Me to Church. To these ears, we're getting Hozier if he existed in the flapper-era of America. It's hard to predict your engagement level, but you won't have another group's version to compare it to, because this one stands alone. From Bareilles to Adele to Joji, Cadenza didn't pull very deeply from the current pop musical vault, and yet, seven different arrangers from the group spun fresh magic. This speaks more to the group's capabilities than any other litmus test, because they did the work on their own. This is smart a cappella; scholarly, if you will.

Seems like I have some catching up to do on Cadenza's catalog. Sit back for I Tried To Love You and see how these arrangement and production choices affect you.

Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
1 Orpheus 4
2 Moderation 3
3 Oh My God 4
4 Slow Dancing in the Dark 4
5 Take Me to Church 3
6 Erase Me 4
7 Bad Friend 4

The wonderful aspect of music is that even when it may not be your particular cup of tea, it is not difficult to comprehend its intent. There are moments in less favorable songs where you listen and conclude, "I see what the artist was going for." Such is the case on I Tried To Love You by Cadenza. The album offers strong opening and closing numbers, but much of the middle leaves more to be desired, even when the concepts are understood.

Orpheus is by far one of the album's shining moments. The track is airy, inviting, and downright celestial in its feel. The lead has such a beautiful and rich tone, fluctuating at times between angelic and modern musical theater. The backing group also makes the performance, as their delivery is enchanting with their tone, unity, and dynamics. The only criticism of the track is the balance, as the lead often gets lost in the volume of the backing vocals.

Bad Friend feels like one of the album's best in terms of unity, making it sound as if Cadenza remedied these balance concerns. The conviction from all featured vocals is what won me over, from the staunch solo to the execution of the backing group with such rhythmic stylings. The song does take a chorus or two to settle, but it flows seamlessly all the way to the cool ending.

Moderation has a solid groove, as the bass and percussion are dialed in, rocking and rolling from start to finish. The mid and higher parts eventually start to feel repetitive, which then puts all the pressure on the lead to carry the song. Oh My God has plenty of cool vocal moments from runs to strong layering in the bridge. There are moments, however, where the song's energy comes more from the track's volume, rather than the passion of the singers.

Take Me to Church unfortunately falls flat for me. To this listener, the song makes a valiant attempt to be this cool fusion of jazz and pop, but it does not translate well. It suffers from too much vibrato, leaning heavily on dramatic moments, and avoiding simple ideas. Sometimes, less is more.

Slow Dancing in the Dark is a refreshingly unreal experience. I did not think the choral stylings would work on this Joji hit, but the choice lends itself well to such an emotional song. The track is filled with many haunting moments of elongated chords, emotions, and sparseness, which make it easy for the listener to fall in love with the song. And the little hints of reverb just elevate the entire experience.

If I were to pinpoint one area for improvement, it would be on track mixing. There are many instances on I Tried To Love You where the song could have potentially been great, but one has to struggle to find the lead or emphasized part. Cadenza has the skill; the group just needs to clean up some of the technical components.

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
1 Orpheus 5
2 Moderation 5
3 Oh My God 5
4 Slow Dancing in the Dark 5
5 Take Me to Church 5
6 Erase Me 5
7 Bad Friend 5

I Tried To Love You is the latest release from University of Chicago's oldest a cappella group, Cadenza (formerly Unaccompanied Women). The album features energized, mature group and solo performances, as well as arrangements that are creative and exciting. The production is bright and polished, a perfect match for the level that Cadenza brings to the microphone — and the results are stunning.

The album begins with a lush, albeit brief, interpretation of Sara Bareilles' Orpheus. Arranged by Faith Sanchez, this track serves as a brief interlude, setting the tone for the album and paving the way for our first full track. Moderation again features the arranging abilities of Sanchez, as well as Gaby Sterkowicz. Some really exciting moments make this track sound and feel different enough while still staying true to the Florence + The Machine original. With Oh My God, Cadenza begins with a more or less straight-forward interpretation, but around the halfway point arrangers Sabine Salnave and Crystal Huang start taking some very cool creative liberties that allow the group to cut loose and make the track their own.

Complex and innovative arranging work permeates I Tried To Love You, expertly capturing the lyrics in surprising, electrifying ways. Slow Dancing in the Dark contains a number of clever twists and turns by arranger Elissa Kwon, such as bringing in parts of U by Jaden, which adds an additional layer of complexity to the track that highlights the emotional turmoil and heartbreak that pervades I Tried To Love You. The "I was tryin' to love you but we're falling down, falling down" sample at the end gives me chills. A soulful, jazzed-up arrangement of Hozier's well known (and often covered) Take Me to Church by Sanchez and Sterkowicz combine with a powerful solo performance to capture the essence of the lyrics in unexpected, wonderfully new ways. The "hey"s at 1:25 and the pizzicato "dm"s for the bridge at 2:17 are just a couple reasons why I'll be listening to this track for months.

It should be noted that regardless of arranger, and there are at least seven credited, every arrangement and track has a unified sound — a noteworthy accomplishment for any a cappella group. Erase Me is a complete change of character following the powerful nature of Oh My God, Slow Dancing in the Dark, and Take Me to Church. Giving Lizzy McAlpine a run for her money against a backdrop of rich, relaxed background harmonies is a welcome and necessary change of pace. Also, I love discovering new songs and artists via a cappella groups and their covers: enter Bad Friend by Rina Sawayama. Bad Friend is an excellent addition to I Tried To Love You for a couple reasons: a song choice that is both outside the mainstream and begs to be rendered a cappella is something to be desired, and Cadenza did not squander this opportunity.

I never once found myself trying to love I Tried To Love You; I just did — and I bet you will, too.


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