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nonpareil (2008)


August 23, 2008

Tuning / Blend 3.7
Energy / Intensity 3.0
Innovation / Creativity 2.7
Soloists 3.0
Sound / Production 3.3
Repeat Listenability 2.7
1 Kiss Me 3.3
2 Breathe 3.0
3 Miss Independent 3.7
4 Silent All These Years 2.7
5 Mr. Sandman 2.7
6 One Fine Day 3.3
7 Lollipop 3.3
8 Every Little Thing 2.7
9 Unwritten 3.3

Recorded 2007 – 2008
Total time: 27:24, 9 songs

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
1 Kiss Me 4
2 Breathe 4
3 Miss Independent 4
4 Silent All These Years 3
5 Mr. Sandman 3
6 One Fine Day 3
7 Lollipop 5
8 Every Little Thing 3
9 Unwritten 3

Luminescence is charming. This high school group from Massachusetts sings winsomely on the 10 songs of nonpareil. The group's sweet, choral-inflected sound sits perfectly on these youthful voices. As a result, songs that could be painfully square are instead engaging and fun.

The squarest tune is also the funnest, at least where this ancient reviewer is concerned. Luminescence does wonders with Deke Sharon and Anne Raugh's straight-up choral take on Lollipop. Yes it sounds like a good chamber choir. It also sounds terrific.

Nor is this to say nonpareil never rocks out. Miss Independent is downright sultry, with more than a touch of funk. Suzie Wyman rocks out on the lead, switching effectively between registers and always staying in the pocket. Kiss Me, the album opener, also has a good groove, though it gets a strong assist from the timbre. In the refrain, soloist Molly Thibodeau holds all her lines to the end of the bar, instead of the typical cutoff with a bite. An older singer would sound stilted, but Thibodeau manages a breathy straight tone that drains away some of the affect.

Yes you've heard these songs before, but they sound as good or better so where's the harm? Silent All These Years trips a bit on its piano lines, but don't they all. Timbre and technology mean that Luminescence sounds as good or better as all those collegiate recordings that have piled up over the years.

And yes, technology helps tremendously. Almost all the tracks sound shiny and clean, in a way that I doubt would have been possible in the pre-digital era. The high lines on Silent All These Years soar softly and easily, while the Miss Independent bass line drops the octave without intruding. Unwritten has an old school doom-doom-doom chick group bassline (ah, my youth) and boy have I not missed it since I was in a group like this myself.

All told, this album is lovely. I enjoyed listening to it, and I hope it inspires singers everywhere to realize that you don't have to be old to make a good album.

Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
1 Kiss Me 2
2 Breathe 2
3 Miss Independent 3
4 Silent All These Years 2
5 Mr. Sandman 1
6 One Fine Day 3
7 Lollipop 2
8 Every Little Thing 2
9 Unwritten 3

Luminescence is an all-female a cappella group from Marblehead High School in Massachusetts. The groups is well-rehearsed, delivers sincere performances, and takes extra-cute group photos. But as musicians, they're certainly still growing.

These are thin, often timid voices. The group sings well together, but there's no mistaking their age. While not a fault, this limitation makes it hard to pull-off the likes of Tori Amos and Natasha Bedingfield. Their director/the group was wise to include barbershop favorites to balance the repertoire. One Fine Day by The Chiffons is the most vocally solid track on nonpareil, featuring a lovely lower end and great overall balance. Unfortunately, many arrangements need thickening to raise the excitement level. In particular, Breathe is very sleepy, and Mr. Sandman is starkly empty. These gals have the talent to add more complexity and zing to their line-up!

There's definitely a strong collegiate a cappella influence present on nonpareil, and Andrew Schwartz (a Dear Abbeys alum) has contributed the strongest arrangement on the album: Miss Independent. If their arrangements could all be as compelling as Schwartz's work, their energy level and musical maturity would certainly rise by necessity.

On a very bright note, Daniel Cantor of Notable Productions has done an outstanding job enhancing the natural talents of Luminescence. The production is not at all overbearing, and often truly dazzling. Let's hope Luminescence keeps Mr. Cantor in tow for future projects.

nonpareil is a good first recording effort for Luminescence. I genuinely look forward to their next album.

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
1 Kiss Me 4
2 Breathe 3
3 Miss Independent 4
4 Silent All These Years 3
5 Mr. Sandman 4
6 One Fine Day 4
7 Lollipop 3
8 Every Little Thing 3
9 Unwritten 4

High School a cappella is quietly catching up to the collegiate scene. Marblehead High School Luminescence's nonpareil is (ironically) right on par with most collegiate albums.

It is refreshing, in a way, to hear all the normal mistakes made by college groups made instead by a high school group. The issues that normally sink high school albums — poor tuning, clunky arrangements, weak mixes — are nowhere to be found on nonpareil.

The main weakness of this album is in the studio execution. Many of the songs lack energy in the backs, due to a lack of investment and phrasing. Some technical issues persist throughout: oversights like nasty, lip-smacking breaths, click bleed (the final sound of the final track of the album is in fact click bleed), and tempo missteps. A general rule for choosing a cappella cover tempos should be: determine the exact tempo of the original song, then add two beats per minute. Breathe and Miss Independent especially suffered from slowness.

Song selection is another area for improvement. I can look past the inclusion of covers I've heard a million times like Kiss Me, Breathe, Miss Independent, Every Little Thing, and Unwritten, but I definitely could do with one fewer oldie. Lollipop is the weakest of the three, while Mr. Sandman and One Fine Day work decently, believe it or not, in part because of their appropriate tongue-in-cheek treatment.

The arrangements fit nicely with the talent level of the group, though as the group evolves I would love to hear background parts that require a bit more attitude. It's great to hear singers that can come out and really own a lead, but it's even cooler sometimes to hear the same ownership of a backing part.

The soloists are capable throughout. Suzie Wyman turns in an excellent lead on Miss Independent, showing off her impressive range and control. I can't help wanting her to ditch the head voice on the chorus and just belt it, but she's already "there" on the low stuff.

Overall, I have to give Luminescence hearty congratulations. nonpareil is definitely an achievement for such a young group.


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