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The Beelzebubs

Tufts University

Prospect Street (2021)

5.0

December 23, 2021

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 5.0
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.7
Tracks
1 Limbo 4.7
2 Sanctify 4.7
3 Lovely 4.7
4 Kiss Me Quick 5.0

Recorded 2021
Total time: 12:34, 4 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Limbo 5
2 Sanctify 5
3 Lovely 4
4 Kiss Me Quick 5

The Beelzebubs are just, still, so good. When they choose good songs, there isn't a better listen in modern a cappella, and this quartet of tracks is up to the task. Especially the opening half. 

Limbo is just delightful: well picked, well arranged, and well performed. I enjoy the texture of the song so much, from Sam Hoban singing alone over handclaps to the full-horn-section effect of the ensemble at the chorus and the thoroughly modern doo-wop/R&B groove of the full band. I could listen to this all day and probably will for a while. It's dark outside; I appreciate the excuse to bop around.

Sanctify keeps up the momentum with its dance-club vibe and pounding basslines. Harper Wise provides a great solo, and his arrangement (with Ethan Wise) cycles through a fabulous mix of beats. I really love the mix of vocal percussion, drum machine stylings, handclaps, snaps, and Ed Boyer/Bill Hare mixing and mastering. The tempo is totally straight-ahead, but the shifting rhythm section keeps it interesting all the way through.

Lovely is not my favorite song, what can I say. To my taste it's a little boring, a little emo, not enough tune, and a ballad so not too much beat. If you like the source material, you'll probably like this one? Anyway it's one song; you can skip or let it play through without overthinking it.

The EP ends with Kiss Me Quick, sung nicely by Matt Chiu and played very close to its boy-band origins. My own generation of boy bands was a couple of decades ago, but it's nice to hear the genre hasn't moved too much in the meantime. I said "nice" twice — that probably tells you where I stand on boy-band covers. This one's got a good beat, and you can dance to it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back and listen to Limbo again.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Limbo 5
2 Sanctify 4
3 Lovely 5
4 Kiss Me Quick 5

Anytime is typically a welcome time to listen to a new release from the Tufts Beelzebubs, so after three long years and one seemingly even longer pandemic, even just a four-song EP is a cause for great celebration at my house.

And thankfully — as expected — the 'Bubs don't let me down.

Prospect Street — a 30th-anniversary homage to the group's pioneering 1991 release Foster Street, perhaps? — gives you a little of everything that these guys do best. As is their extraordinarily high and consistent standard, there is nary a note out of place, a horn lick ignored, an instrument effect not reproduced. The whole thing is recorded impeccably by the gents of Plaid Productions, mixed brilliantly by Ed Boyer, and mastered smoothly by Bill Hare — an A+ team of production folks if ever there was one. It's truly a bit of a struggle to find what to quibble with here. If you're really a stickler, multiple songs have been transposed down from their original keys; but hey, I believe Prospect Street primarily runs through Cambridge, south of Tufts' home in Somerville, so one could argue the group is just being true to the album title by migrating the keys southward as well (cue exquisitely recorded vocal rimshot). 

All kidding aside, 98% of groups in the US — professional or collegiate — would be beyond delighted to have a sound as smooth and polished as these Beelzebubs. And lest you think it's all flash and technical wizardry — a criticism I myself have lobbed at the group in years past — this grouping of Plaid/Boyer/Hare has hit upon a terrific formula for managing to keep the group sounding both human and other-worldly at the same time. Sure, are there moments when I can't help shake my head at this or that drum pattern that feels sampled and programmed within an inch of its life? Absolutely. But then they'll turn around and insert some vocal flourish that wasn't even in the original, and all is forgiven. Suddenly, it's not just a duplication but a legitimate interpretation. And if you're doing almost exclusively covers, that's generally my preference. Don't just give me what you know I want to hear; give me what I want to hear and something new on top of that.

If you're wondering about the tiny ding for Sanctify, the above paragraph speaks to why it fell just slightly short. The high tenor of Olly Alexander is transposed down here for the smooth baritone stylings of Harper Wise, and a bit of the song is lost in translation. The arrangement also leans a bit too hard on mechanical drum patterns and big, open pad chords, and it lacks some of the sophistication and depth that one is used to hearing on a typical 'Bubs track. It's lovely work, but maybe just a notch short of truly "excellent".

With that said, I could probably have ended this review after the second paragraph. This is top quality work from a top quality group, and I can offer no higher praise than to recommend that you seek it out immediately.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Limbo 4
2 Sanctify 5
3 Lovely 5
4 Kiss Me Quick 5

I always look forward to a new 'Bubs album in my inbox, though I do have two complaints: that Prospect Street is just a four-song EP, and that it's been three years since we've last had a Bubs recording.

Of course, Prospect Street feels seamless with the rest of the 'Bubs' discography, because of all the things that make the 'Bubs who they are: impeccable voices, engaging arrangements, and pitch-perfect recordings — not to mention the consistency in the production/mixing/mastering trio of Plaid/Boyer/Hare. This is a group that knows who it is, what it wants to sound like, and what it takes to get there.

There are a couple of really notable highlights here. The arrangement of Sanctify works really well, starting sparsely and building into lusher choruses; kudos to Harper Wise and Ethan Wise. Each verse has a different vibe, which makes the song more engaging than just alternating sparse/full/sparse/full. Matt Chiu pulls off an impressive lead on Kiss Me Quick; there's a vocal run about halfway through the song that made me do a double-take and kept me coming back to this tune. And even on a four-song EP, the 'Bubs have found a way to take on a slower, moodier song (Lovely) without killing the overall momentum.

Some of my complaints here are minor and might just be personal preference — I really don't like the sound of recorded handclaps, so I find that part of Limbo to be a bit grating (this is consistent with how I feel about Lawrence's original, so at least the 'Bubs have captured the essence of the original song, for better or worse). And two tracks here (Sanctify and Kiss Me Quick) end really abruptly, which is a cute trick the first time we hear it but feels more like a cop out when half the songs end the same way.

These are just minor complaints, though; Prospect Street is everything we've come to expect from the Bubs and should be able to tide most fans over until the group's next recording... which will hopefully not be three years away.


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