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Who's Your Daddy!

Anti-Social Security (2014)


December 24, 2014

Tuning / Blend 3.7
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 2.0
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 2.7
Repeat Listenability 3.7
1 You Shook Me All Night Long 3.3
2 One/Mama Told Me Not To Come 3.0
3 Fire 3.7
4 Some Kind of Wonderful 3.3
5 Brandy 3.7
6 Sundown 2.7
7 My Sharona 3.3
8 Jessie's Girl 3.0
9 The Power of Love 3.3
10 No Time 2.7
11 Addicted to Love 3.0
12 In My Life 3.7
13 Feels Like the First Time 3.7

Recorded 2014
Total time: 45:13, 13 songs

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 1
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 2
1 You Shook Me All Night Long 2
2 One/Mama Told Me Not To Come 4
3 Fire 4
4 Some Kind of Wonderful 2
5 Brandy 3
6 Sundown 2
7 My Sharona 3
8 Jessie's Girl 2
9 The Power of Love 2
10 No Time 3
11 Addicted to Love 2
12 In My Life 3
13 Feels Like the First Time 3

As contemporary a cappella has grown more complex and sophisticated in the last two decades or so — in arranging, in syllable choices, in use of studio technology, in diversity of repertoire — I've probably uttered the phrase "this isn't your mother/father/older brother's a cappella" on more than a few occasions.

Along come the four men of Who's Your Daddy!, who embody the very essence of that retro approach to a cappella — in their repertoire choices, in their arranging approach, in the studio techniques. The problem is, I'm not sure they realize that.

That they are extremely experienced professional musicians is not in doubt. A glance through their website bios makes that abundantly clear. Though only one (the bass, Bill New) seems to have specific a cappella experience, the others have done plenty of high-profile singing and still possess robust tenors capable of wailing on classic rock.

That they want to tackle repertoire of yesteryear is also abundantly clear from a quick perusal of the track list. And hey, nothing wrong with that. '70s and '80s kitsch is wonderful, and there's a healthy tradition of that in contemporary a cappella.

What's far more bothersome, then, is that there has been little to no effort to do anything remotely interesting with most of the material offered here. Arrangements generally fall into one of three categories of bass and percussion (more on that in a second), plus either homophonous singing in straight head harmony, or solo plus two or more voices singing the signature instrumental lick (and virtually every song here has a signature lick or rhythm you're expecting to hear). It's adequate but nothing more. And lest you insist that it's a four-person group so how many choices do they have, this album is replete with overdubs — so there was plenty of opportunity to create layers of harmonies and interwoven rhythms. Indeed, the Three Dog Night "medley" and Fire get higher marks precisely because they attempt (and to some extent succeed) at doing just that.  But the failure of the rest of the selections to come anywhere close to that level of sophistication and texture is greatly disappointing and ultimately makes for a boring album.

Also not helping matters is a reliance — almost exclusively — on what can best be described as "thump and clap" vocal percussion. Mind you, it's not even live thump-and-clap. It's actually sampled thump and clap, which makes it even more intolerable. In addition, the studio work and production choices do these gents very few favors. Dynamics? Virtually non-existent beyond a constant, relentless fortissimo. You do get quite a few chances to recognize that these guys actually do blend extremely well together when singing homophonously, be it on rhythms or words. But how frustrating, then, to so often hear such exposed, individual background lines isolated on separate sides of the stereo mix. I tried both a home theatre system and my usual AKG studio headphones, and in both cases the mix is just so disjointed throughout. Perhaps most surprising is the palpable lack of energy, most apparent on the more plodding, repetitive arrangements, including No Time and Addicted to Love, among others. From the way they attack their solos, you can tell they love this material; if only their background singing brought the same intensity as their solos.

The irony is not lost on me that much of this review sounds a bit ornery, in the vein of "Get off our lawn, you goddamn dads." That's not really my intent, if for no other reason than I'm probably closer in age to these guys than I am to current collegiate a cappella groups. But even with all of their experience in the music biz, these guys haven't yet mastered the key ingredients that make for a first-rate contemporary a cappella album. They have the voices, and they have a wealth of older but terrific material to work with. But when it comes to arranging, variation, inventiveness, production, and energy — and perhaps also spelling (see their website: "acapella with attitude"?!?) — I'm afraid they're still pretty "clueless".

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 5
1 You Shook Me All Night Long 5
2 One/Mama Told Me Not To Come 3
3 Fire 4
4 Some Kind of Wonderful 3
5 Brandy 4
6 Sundown 3
7 My Sharona 4
8 Jessie's Girl 5
9 The Power of Love 4
10 No Time 3
11 Addicted to Love 4
12 In My Life 4
13 Feels Like the First Time 5

The kids are in bed. Four dads, who are likely described as fun and embarrassing by their children, sneak out to a garage or a basement. Once there, something strange and wonderful happens. These everyday fathers transform into a cappella rock stars, bringing new life to the songs they grew up with. Vocal Vigilantes.

I don't know if the scene I described is accurate, but it's what I imagine when I listen to Anti-Social Security by Who's Your Daddy! Average guys singing classic rock in an authentic way. This album is packed full of oldies but goodies. In My Life by the Beatles (which is not listed on the track list), Rick Springfield's Jessie's Girl, a Three Dog Night medley with One/Mama Told Me Not To Come, and so many more. Like Addicted to Love and Some Kind of Wonderful, every single song is filled with nostalgia.

In a technical sense, this album isn't perfect. It's not particularly original. There's nothing breaking ground in the arrangements or in the production. However, that's not what this album strives for. Each song transports you back in time. You are right in the middle of the disco era when you listen to Fire. The Power of Love is just waiting for a forest of hands waving lighters back and forth. So what is it that makes this album shine? The performances. These guys are having tons of fun, which is contagious. And each song seems tailored to the vocal talents of the Who's Your Daddy! line-up.

You can't listen to Anti-Social Security without feeling happy. And each listen gets better.

Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
1 You Shook Me All Night Long 3
2 One/Mama Told Me Not To Come 2
3 Fire 3
4 Some Kind of Wonderful 5
5 Brandy 4
6 Sundown 3
7 My Sharona 3
8 Jessie's Girl 2
9 The Power of Love 4
10 No Time 2
11 Addicted to Love 3
12 In My Life 4
13 Feels Like the First Time 3

Hailing from Los Angeles, CA, Contemporary A cappella League group Who's Your Daddy! has a discography filled with tunes typically packaged as "oldies" or "classics". Though the group does nothing particularly new and innovative with the tracks on its newest album, the covers included in Anti-Social Security make for excellent background music for multi-taskers everywhere.

For the most part, it is clear that the group's live performances are infused with a magnetic sort of energy. Their repertoire mostly suits them, in that the big shout-chorus sections with open vowels and high, intense solos sound appropriate and are well done. I found myself instinctively dancing along to Some Kind of Wonderful one morning while cleaning my apartment, which is not an everyday occurrence by any means. (The dancing, not the cleaning ... okay, maybe both.) The group knows how to set and stay in a groove in many of their tracks, which are simple enough to blissfully enjoy. There are instances of a really simple tenderness that works for the group as well, even in a song so tried-and-true as In My Life.

Unfortunately, there are times when the singers' strengths are not employed, and they show their hand in terms of weaknesses. The album is generally bare regarding its studio production, which suits this group well — but at the cost of negatively impacting the tuning in many instances, which is particularly noticeable in this age of gratuitous autotune. Sections such as the "doot"s in One have a timidity and tonal instability that do not serve the song well, not to mention a tendency to come off the beat just slightly which obscures uniformity. The arrangements are incredibly simple and follow the form of the song exactly, which leaves gaps that would bore an active listener in tracks like Fire and Jessie's Girl. Feels Like the First Time, the final track, was released as a single a year earlier and has substantially more studio effects than most tracks on the album, which works for the single but negatively impacts album consistency.

I find the album artwork to be simple and effective enough, but the group should be careful with future booklets in terms of typos or misspellings, especially in their tagline, which reads, "acapella with attitude". The booklet also does not credit soloists, arrangers, or percussion, which is at least consistent across the board, but could be included to give everyone their due.

Anti-Social Security will not take you on an emotional journey, and if you are an avid a cappella listener, it will not provide you with anything you haven't heard before. But it did make me awkwardly dance in my empty house, and for that, I applaud Who's Your Daddy! for the fun factor and the groove. Because the original tunes are so excellent and timeless, it's easy to appreciate these simple recreations, especially in a passive listening situation.

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