Creature - Single (2021)
Review By Dan Fister
May 6, 2022
I often overlook the cover art of albums, a cappella or otherwise. But the illustration for Creature, a stunning single jointly sung by the University of Wisconsin's Fundamentally Sound and Pitches & Notes, intrigued me. Artist Colleen Schinler depicts two people, one member of each group, scoping out a cave lit from within while glowing eyes watch them from the surrounding forest. The image may seem a little too on-the-nose, given the track's title. But as a metaphor, it aptly captures the musical journey on which the combined group takes the listener, from unsure to awe-inspired.
The chart begins sparsely: upper and lower voices sing beats apart, which is emphasized by their far spacing in the mix, and you notice the minimal vp in the first verse. At various points as the track unfolds, the groups seem more independent (like the second verse with the treble group in the foreground and lower-voiced countermelodies), or more melded (the sumptuous second pre-chorus with duet leads), so the texture and sonic spacing change often. At first I thought this almost disjointed arrangement decision by Fundamentally Sound alum Lee Stovall was odd, but I think it's actually more purposeful, acknowledging and musically portraying the two different a cappella groups which normally operate in offset but overlapping tonal spaces (treble and bass). This works to fuse their sounds and people into one. The mixing and mastering decisions by Niko Tutland and Dave Sperandio, respectively, highlight this choice as well.
The bombastic final choruses represent the widest vocal range of the group (high sopranos and low basses) while also showcasing the ensemble at its most balanced and blended. During the outro, the background voices again trade "oh"s beats apart like the opening; but it sounds different, like they're working together now, partially because they sound more centered in the mix and have the full rhythm section behind them. To return to the album art metaphor: two groups enter the cave but leave as one, changed by the journey of the arrangement and the act of singing together.
The symmetrical order of the soloists also lines up with this metaphor. Like a mirror, the song begins and ends with the same people but in the opposite order as before. Many of the soloists sing in small groups during the song's middle sections, coming together at the same time that the background vocals sound their most cohesive. The tender duet between Maia Grosser and Rahul Ravi followed by Borna Riazi's soaring tenor during the bridge catalyzes the fusion of the two ensembles and the building of the individual groups. While I tend to dislike songs that feature many soloists, this one works for me; perhaps because the rotating leads coincide with and enhance the arrangement's form, perhaps because the leads each sound different enough that I can distinguish them and hear them return later in the chart.
I wrote many more words than I intended to when I first listened to this very good track. But with each listen, and as I continued mulling the cover art, I considered the things that I thought were small bugs to instead be features and came to see Creature in an entirely different light: that of a cave and a journey.