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Mixed Company

Stanford University

Ransom Notes (2021)

4.0

October 26, 2021

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.3
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 3.3
Tracks
1 Idontwannabeyouanymore 4.0
2 Hide and Seek 4.0

Recorded 2020
Total time: 8:37, 2 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Idontwannabeyouanymore 4
2 Hide and Seek 4

A double-sided single; I wonder if this will catch on in our community, because I like the format. This is a true business card for an artist: just the right size to demo out for gigs, and the right length to tantalize a listener over to your earlier or future recordings. The two tracks presented on Ransom Notes sound terrific, but arguably don't belong on the same release.

There's personal philosophy at play here: with eight and a half minutes, do you go for two contrasting songs to show more range, or two that complement one another to show more cohesion? Mixed Company went for the former, and perhaps if track two had been anything but one of our canon's most iconic tunes, I'd be really happy with this ride.

Billie Eilish's lush opener is beautifully tailored to Mixed Company: a cascading and atmospheric slow jam with lots of honey chords and emotive swells and swoops. It'd be a powerhouse single from this group; this is Mixed Company's wheelhouse. Balanced with Hide and Seek, we get a different release. To Mixed Company's credit, they take this a cappella classic all the way to the edges, with huge dynamic shifts, close intimacy, and even some new ideas in the back quarter to add a modern indie vibe. The group kept it an ensemble piece, and that works, too; team Holland/Trembinski/Boyer/Hare polished each line to a gleaming shine. It's just that together, these two songs sound like the start of a full-length album that'll take us many places across forty-five minutes, and that's not what we have with this product.

All the same, enthusiastic applause for the format and bold singing on Ransom Notes; Mixed Company certainly has a solid handle on its vocals.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Idontwannabeyouanymore 4
2 Hide and Seek 4

Upon seeing the short track list on this tiny two-track album, I was hoping that Mixed Company would in fact "mix it up" a bit and do something unexpected with the arrangements given that countless groups have covered both Billie Eilish and Hide and Seek over the years. And while we do not quite get that with Ransom Notes, we do get a clean, well produced duo of songs that I can't stop listening to.

Starting with the second track first, I appreciate the trading sections between the upper and lower parts. There are countless moments where the upper voices take over and the bass/baritone simply disappears, and vice versa, allowing one to really listen to the beautiful harmonies. In particular, I am obsessed with the tenor/bass entrance at around the 1:50 mark on "oily marks appear on walls". It comes in which such gusto compared to the section previous that it's slightly jarring (like a vocal punch to the face), but I would argue that it fits here. I love the strength and richness of the bass here, and it's complemented beautifully with the upper male harmonies, further crescendoing through the higher register's entrance and the fantastic dissonances on "still life". It's about a thirty second clip of the nearly four and a half minute track, and it's without question my favorite moment of the two tracks. Overall, the group does a great job with the musicality of the track as well, although I would like to hear a little bit more decrescendo through all parts at the end to wrap up the track. The main vocals do a nice job with this, but the high harmonies stick out a little too much for my liking.

As for Idontwannabeyouanymore, I don't have any moments that I'm obsessing over like in Hide and Seek, but that doesn't mean I don't like the track. Natalie Stiner's delivers a wonderful solo with great power and control, and the arrangement by Emily Ross, Ashwin Pillai and Eric Hatch does a great job at continuing to show the high musicality that the group has. However, referring back to my initial point, there isn't a moment or moments that necessarily separates this from the original or from other a cappella covers that are out there. With all of the iterations of the songs (particularly with Hide and Seek), I am looking for arrangements that change things up a bit; it doesn't have to be drastic, but a couple of moments that give the audience something to grab onto and say "this is X's version of Hide and Seek — that's unique". Unfortunately, Mixed Harmony missed its opportunity to do that here.

That said, if you love these two songs and are looking for another cover of each to add to your playlists, either of these songs would be welcome additions.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Idontwannabeyouanymore 4
2 Hide and Seek 4

Ransom Notes is a two-song EP from Stanford's Mixed Company. Since it's hard to write in generalities about two songs, I will review them as two singles.

Idontwannabeyouanymore is a very interesting fusion of emotions set to music. Natalie Stiner does a great job telling a story of internalized conflict. However, for the story that is told, the story arc is very inconsistent. Nearly one minute of the song is spent simply setting up the mood of the song with haunting arpeggiations in the distance before the soloist keys in. Those arpeggios are replaced by a darker wall of sound that just feels like a haunting waltz I can't stop moving to. The piece continues growing and expanding, but the climax is suddenly more choral and restrained. The final plea of the soloist is somehow devoid of all of the energy that had existed for the majority of the song, and then the number ends suddenly.

Hide and Seek is an ambitious song selection from the opening seconds. This piece is filled with a number of dark and complex chords that arrangers Emily Ross and Kelsey Carido did a splendid job of putting on paper. However, more important than the chords for this piece is the phrasing. This track is a surprisingly simple four-chord structure, so it relies on both the macro and micro dynamics to make every second pop. Overall, the macro dynamics of this piece are gorgeous. There are forte phrases sandwiched between piano phrases that absolutely smack the listener in the face. However, the microdynamics at times can be lacking, so repetitive phrases lack the differing directions to make them feel less repetitive. I want to love every second of this track, but the overall effect of this little misstep eventually takes its toll.

Overall, there is a lot to love about these pieces, but just enough to also say that there is room for the group to grow. Take a listen and see if you agree.


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