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Town Criers

Come Alive (2010)


January 2, 2012

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 3.7
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 3.3
1 Let It Rock 4.3
2 Feeling Good 3.7
3 Calling All Angels 4.0
4 Trashin' the Camp 4.0
5 In the Still of the Night 3.3
6 Apologize/ All I Ever Wanted 4.0
7 The Call 3.7
8 All the Above 4.0

Recorded 2010
Total time: 27:19, 8 songs

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
1 Let It Rock 4
2 Feeling Good 3
3 Calling All Angels 4
4 Trashin' the Camp 3
5 In the Still of the Night 3
6 Apologize/ All I Ever Wanted 3
7 The Call 3
8 All the Above 4

These are a bunch of high school guys? Whoa. Heard blind, I would have put this group at solidly post-collegiate, on the other end of the a cappella arc. Maybe it's the mixing and mastering, maybe it's the relatively small cast for a college-style album, but the sound here makes me think of amiable 35-year-olds, not equally amiable incoming freshmen. I don't know whether that's good or bad, per se, but it's something to think about. Displays of youth are rarely a liability in the pop music world, and I wonder if the Town Criers would have been better off to make something a little more boyish.

With all that out of the way, I can tell you that this is a pretty good album. Nice singing, lots of energy, professional production (from the good folks at Liquid 5th) and soloists with verve. I particularly liked Robert Charpie on Calling All Angels. As a track, it's somewhat uneven. As a star turn, he does a great job. Nolan Neu on Feeling Good also sang out and sang well.

Boy bands figure heavily in the repertoire choices, and for the most part it works for them. My one beef — and not just with the Criers — why does no one want to sing Trashin' the Camp as a straight up song? I mean, it's a great tune, right? All bouncy and catchy and sticking in your head. So why does everyone make it some sort of homage novelty performance, with a "wait a minute" breakdown in the middle and maybe some "no words" jokes at the end. This is a cappella land — we do instruments with our mouths all the time — you know, it's singing without the music (cough). Music without singing shouldn't be such a stretch! Ranting aside, the Town Criers version is great — nice and show-tuney, wonderful singing, I was all set to put it in my iTunes rotation — but then it's got the usual track spoilers. Listen up, a cappella world: save it for your live show and give me something easy on the ears.

Finally, let me apologize to the Town Criers for delaying this review by almost a year. It's mostly my fault — I moved overseas and lost track of a bunch of stuff. That's not a fair thing to do to a bunch of high school guys looking for feedback on their new project.

So those are my thoughts, hopefully better late than never. Good job guys, hope you're able to keep it going.

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
1 Let It Rock 5
2 Feeling Good 5
3 Calling All Angels 5
4 Trashin' the Camp 5
5 In the Still of the Night 5
6 Apologize/ All I Ever Wanted 5
7 The Call 5
8 All the Above 5

The Town Criers' Come Alive is one of the best high school albums I have ever heard.

Are you in high school? Directing a high school group? Just enjoy listening to great a cappella? Buy it, buy it, buy it.

Come Alive is not the most original high school album (that honor still belongs to Robert Dietz's 2006 masterpiece, Ascending Height). But it is sung with a passion, musicality and accuracy that is nothing short of stunning for a high school release.

These are not the tone colors of kids. These are mature singers.

Surely, the excellent production of Liquid 5th's Chris Juengal helped matters greatly. But this is still a student-run, collaboratively arranged, 11-man high school group, and the members of the Criers clearly made Come Alive as compelling a listen as it is. Energy and charisma are not fakeable with studio tricks.

(Did I hear someone say "yet"?)

The leads are all impressive, but remember the name Josh Chopak. He blows In the Still of the Night away. Not only are the runs ridiculous, but Chopak's emotional delivery is raw and genuine enough to breathe fresh life into a seriously dated song.

One genius choice for this group: rock the hell out of 8 tracks instead of bungling 15. The next genius choice: don't confuse creative syllables with creative arranging. Genius topper: sing everything with the kind of energy that makes Red Bull want to sponsor you.

Hell, even the raps sound good — a true rarity in a cappella.

The kids drop the ball a bit on the liner notes when they fail to credit the composers and lyricists. But hopefully this is something they will fix on future releases.

Bottom line: wow. Begun 35 years ago, the Town Criers have done the alumni proud and established themselves as the standard to beat in high school a cappella.

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
1 Let It Rock 4
2 Feeling Good 3
3 Calling All Angels 3
4 Trashin' the Camp 4
5 In the Still of the Night 2
6 Apologize/ All I Ever Wanted 4
7 The Call 3
8 All the Above 3

When I first listened to Come Alive, I have to admit my thoughts as the first song got going were along the lines of: "This is a high school group?" I've been through the album several times now, and I'm still fairly impressed. The Town Criers have put together some good stuff here. Judging from the length of the album (27.5 minutes), it's clear they decided to focus on quality over quantity. And even though I rated the album an overall "3", an "average" compared to the a cappella world in general surely translates as "extremely high" for a high school group. This album is better in many ways than many of the collegiate albums I've reviewed.

The Town Criers are a 13-member, all-male group. When I browsed the group's website, I was unsurprised to find that they recently competed in ICHSA and finished third in the country and top among all-male groups. This album is representative of that kind of vocal quality. With the exception of the classic In the Still of the Night, they focus on the pop/rock genre. They have a bit of an edge to their sound, employ driving beats, and have strong singers on all parts. Many songs employ auto-tuning; mostly that is to give a different texture to the music rather than to help the singers hit the right notes.

Let It Rock (the first track) might be the best song of the album. The Town Criers sing the song with a contagious energy that makes me start tapping my feet and bouncing along in my chair. Trashin' the Camp is another song I had to rate highly mainly because it also gets me dancing along. The energy level on the other songs is more subdued, however, and as I listened to the album there were many times I found myself wishing that they could have matched the energy level established by those two songs.

The weakest element of the album is that many of the songs become repetitive during the course of the song. That is, the arrangements don't do enough to keep the listeners' interest. That's the single largest reason I rated the album a "2" in the "repeat listenability" category. At times it's because the soloist repeats the same words over and over; that's the case with the words Come Alive in Let It Rock. Another example of that is in All the Above, where All the Above is repeated (auto-tuned) ad nauseam in the main vocal line. Other times it's the backups that bore; that's the case in the vanilla version of In the Still of the Night. Apologize/All I Ever Wanted is an exception to this — I thought the mash-up of the two songs was clever and worked well.

As a final note about the sound, the production was pretty good through the whole album. One of the few production choices that I really disliked was in Feeling Good, where a couple of minutes into the song an "old-fashioned radio" effect is applied. The idea was a good one, but the effect caused a very annoying clicking sound from my speakers.

Come Alive is an album the Town Criers can be proud of. It will more than satisfy their fans, and any others who want to hear some of the best of high school a cappella.


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