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North Carolina State University

Rebound (2017)


July 25, 2018

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 3.3
1 All Time Low 3.3
2 Once Upon Another Time 3.7
3 Leave Me Lonely 4.3

Recorded 2017
Total time: 9:14, 3 songs

Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
1 All Time Low 3
2 Once Upon Another Time 3
3 Leave Me Lonely 4

Most listeners don't need a song to grab them immediately if they can sense that their patience will be rewarded. Unfortunately for NC State's Acappology, only one song on the group's new EP, Rebound, entices in the first two minutes — Ariana Grande's Leave Me Lonely — and the group just barely gets there at the 1-minute mark. It's as if the backing voices realize, for the first time, that the vulnerable but engaging soloist has been left exposed for too long, and they crank the energy and commitment to an 8 or 9. They eventually get to an 11, but by the time they do, there's only about twenty seconds left in the song.

Similar but less successful transitions occur in Jon Bellion's All Time Low and Sara Bareilles's Once Upon Another Time. The former doesn't really get there until after the 2-minute mark, which is far too late and too close to the end. Once Upon Another Time is even later, with the first noteworthy effort coming at 2:33, when the ladies play against the basses in a tantalizing counterpoint, but even then, the basses are wooden and forced. The rest of the group gets it just right twenty seconds later, but it's simply too late.

Music needs to grow and build, and the arrangements here generally do that effectively. The problem is how the group executes them, with an opening lethargy that will be hard for many listeners to survive or tolerate before the group hits its stride. The percussion is consistently driving and punchy, and the soloists are doing what they can, but the rest of the group just can't quite find its groove quickly enough. As a result, the music feels like a missed opportunity. The collection's title feels right but for the wrong reasons — the group does manage to rebound in each of the three tracks here, but the slow starts might just put these songs too far behind to win over most listeners.

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
1 All Time Low 4
2 Once Upon Another Time 4
3 Leave Me Lonely 5

Short releases seem to be all the rage in a cappella lately, with many groups opting for four or five song offerings as opposed to the more traditional 12-15 track album. From some perspectives, this trend makes sense. Recording, especially on a student budget, can be expensive to say the least, and in era where most fans are turning to streaming as their means of consumption, many listeners opt to skip around and pick and choose the songs they want anyway. When executed properly, a short release can be a great way to produce a succinct, focused project, and that's precisely what Acappology's three-song Rebound EP offers.

From a high-level perspective, I really like how all three selections complement each other sonically and thematically. The energy and intensity of the vocal performances perfectly supplies the necessary tension and angst needed behind the lyrics. The first song, All Time Low, does a great job in particular of engaging lyrics in this regard. Rather than opting for a carbon-copy of the original, the Acappology rendition is a noticeable few clicks slower which I find quite beneficial to the performance. The slower tempo makes the lyrics pop out a bit more, most markedly in the hook. While the hook consists of repetitions of the word "low", a solid delivery can make all the difference in impact. This is probably most apparent in the intro which begins with softness and gradually adds weighted descending darker tones as the bass voices join a few moments later.

In addition to solid group vocals, Acappology should also be commended for its strong soloist performances. Leave Me Lonely is one of the more memorable takes I've heard in recent memory. What sells this particular solo isn't simply the soloist's ability to move seamlessly between registers or to maneuver nimbly through riffs, but rather her embodiment of the emotion, especially right round the climax towards the end.

To conclude, Rebound is a brief experience, but it's also an experience absent of filler. It's focused, intense, and engaging — and worthy of all nine minutes of your time.

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
1 All Time Low 3
2 Once Upon Another Time 4
3 Leave Me Lonely 4

Rebound is the most recent release from Acappology, the oldest mixed group at North Carolina State University. Acappology is a somewhat misleading name for this group, because there is not much this group has to apologize for in its most recent release. While the EP does not contain show-stoppers, it is put together well.

As with reviews of previous releases for this group, Rebound gets high marks for using dynamics effectively. This is an area where groups often fall down, but not Acappology. The release before this EP, Lockdown, received similar praise. These dynamics are on display in Once Upon Another Time, which is my favorite arrangement and solo of the EP. The ballad begins softly, leaving the soloist's raw emotion exposed for listeners. As the song progresses, the group gives beautiful crescendos that punctuate the emotional arc of the song. It is clear that arranger and soloist Tori Tavares thought deeply about the song's arrangement and execution.

The arrangements are solid as well-done cover songs but don't push the boundaries of today's field. All Time Low suffers from too much repetition and too little variation in the background parts to keep listeners fully engaged. The main attraction in All Time Low is the production and a smooth-sounding Nigel Carlton on the solo. Leave Me Lonely has similar weaknesses, relying on too many "ooh"s in the upper voice parts and too many unison echoes of the soloist. Keilah Davis and Margaret Mazgola do a truly terrific job with the solo (especially the killer belting and riffs at the end — perfect for an Ariana Grande song), but to nail this track Acappology could have been more innovative with the arrangement.

My critique of the arrangements notwithstanding, I enjoy the mix of songs, tempos, and soloists on the EP. For a short recording project, Acappology packs a lot in and the group should be pleased with this result. Acappology has been at this for a while, and it shows.

For the typical a cappella listener, this will be an enjoyable listen. It's certainly worth the nine minutes.


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Ordering Information

Rebound also streams on Spotify.

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