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The Sil'hooettes

University of Virginia

Tiny Bras (2021)


May 27, 2022

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.7
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 3.7
1 Retrograde 4.3
2 My Strange Addiction 4.3
3 Slow Burn 3.7
4 Cold War 4.0
5 Imagine 3.7
6 Lola 3.3
7 Last Name 3.0
8 Best Part 4.0
9 Diane 4.0
10 Boomerang 4.3

Recorded 2019 – 2021
Total time: 32:55, 10 songs

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
1 Retrograde 4
2 My Strange Addiction 5
3 Slow Burn 4
4 Cold War 5
5 Imagine 5
6 Lola 4
7 Last Name 3
8 Best Part 5
9 Diane 4
10 Boomerang 5

Much like the album title, Tiny Bras isn't an album that I love, but I also don't hate it. I know neither the title nor the album was specifically written or meant for me, but that doesn't mean that I can't find the one very odd and enjoy the results of the other. If you are a person who is prone to wearing the titular accoutrement, you know that it doesn't come in a one-size-fits-all version. So make sure when you are selecting your next listening venture that you pamper yourself and utilize the "this is not the right one for me, so let me move on" option if necessary.

All of that makes it sound like I don't like this latest release by The Virginia Sil'hooettes, or that it isn't good. You can see by the scores that isn't the case. It's quite good and I'm not loathed to recognize or even exalt that. The one true criticism that I have of Tiny Bras is pretty ludicrous even by my standards: a large part of the album sounds too metallic. There is a literal crackling sound and briny aftereffects taste to the first five tracks that make it hard to get into the album, especially since Cold War is one of my favorite songs and this version distanced me from my enjoyment in unexpected ways. It wasn't until the more natural or organic-seeming soundscape of Lola that my ears took notice again upon my first few listens.

Yet, I cannot really fault the sound production as it is rich and full and the bass envelops the ear in this rumbling beauty that is magical. Gammon is Gammon and he's just as Gammon here as he usually is, which means it's pretty near perfect. So even though nothing changed at the halfway point technically, it just felt like a new album to me while listening to it. The feeling really hit home at Best Part, which seems absolutely sonically nekkid compared to the rest of the album, but is the best part of the overall listening experience. This track is as luxe as one could wish for in a performance. You'll be thinking about it for a long time to come.

I would be remiss in not pointing out the fact that Cam's Diane speaks perfectly as the antecedent to Dolly's Jolene. I so wish the Sils had included a recording of the latter song and played it as a flipside. Whew.

There are many moments of brilliance on Tiny BrasMy Strange Addiction, Best Part and Boomerang providing strong evidence — so I wholeheartedly suggest you try it on for size yourself.

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
1 Retrograde 5
2 My Strange Addiction 4
3 Slow Burn 4
4 Cold War 3
5 Imagine 4
6 Lola 3
7 Last Name 3
8 Best Part 4
9 Diane 5
10 Boomerang 4

The Sil'hooettes are nothing if not consistent, and the group has given us another lovely album with Tiny Bras. These covers of predominantly female singer-songwriters really work with the group's aesthetic, playing to these singers' strengths.

Sonically, this album evokes a watercolor: there are vibrant colors and chords in the background, but everything has a little fluid blurriness. This usually works in the group's favor, letting the soloist really shine without any distraction from the backs. Slow Burn is the perfect example, as lead Abby Tomlin comes through bright and clear and doesn't have to compete with the rest of the group. There's a lot going on in the background, but the notes blur together a little bit, making the listener aware of the movement from the backs without being distracted by all the detail. It's a lovely production choice that works beautifully on most tracks but less so on others. Cold War sounds as if it was recorded underwater; while the effect works with the sound of the song up to a point, it's a little too extreme for my ears. And the slowed-down Lola is a little sleepy, stripping away some of the catchiness of the original to become some kind of mellow ballad.

Even with a few missteps, there are some real bangers here. Diane is outstanding; soloist Katie Huber is perfection, and the backs propel the song with such a compelling energy; Kristin Lucas did an incredible job with this arrangement. Album opener Retrograde is equally good in a completely different way; the lilting delivery here is beautiful, and the arrangement has just the right amount of movement to keep the song engaging without being distracting.

Overall, the Sils have put together a really lovely, cohesive album with Tiny Bras. The arrangements (and, for the most part, production choices) bring the soloists to the forefront while letting the movement of the backs carry the momentum of these songs, making it a truly enjoyable album to listen to from top to bottom.

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
1 Retrograde 4
2 My Strange Addiction 4
3 Slow Burn 3
4 Cold War 4
5 Imagine 2
6 Lola 3
7 Last Name 3
8 Best Part 3
9 Diane 3
10 Boomerang 4

There is a well-established and vibrant a cappella community at the University of Virginia. Tiny Bras is the latest offering from the treble-voiced Sil'hooettes. I've reviewed this group multiple times recently, and I've loved the serenity that permeates from the group sound. However, this album might be a little bit too serene for my taste.

Starting at the top, Retrograde is a simple yet palatable opening statement. There is a lot of subtle backing going throughout this piece, with lots of rhythms running through the lower voices. This drive lets the upper voices just float over the top. Soloist Ashlyn Wolfe has a voice that fits perfectly in the middle to tell the story without feeling overpowered by everything else. However, this piece has very monotonous energy. There is little to hit towards a second dynamic — Retrograde is very soundly a medium dynamic. There are few highs or lows, which makes even the best moments easily forgotten. A little mapping to understand where the dynamics should be more or less prominent would go a long way to really help the group make the piece more interesting to the listener.

This is further emphasized in Imagine. The lack of energy in the individual phrases makes this a hard track piece to keep the listener's attention. It's easy to tell that there should be any number of small swells and microdynamics across the piece. The opening seconds of the piece start on a drum fill that is a completely different tempo and time signature. It might not be necessary to the overall piece, but it makes the first chords even more important. The introduction of the vocals should be a pointed impact, especially with the lower dynamic — it can be a very powerful moment to set the stage for the soloist, but instead feels like singers working to simply remember their parts rather than singing them with intention. A pointed piano dynamic with direction would do wonders for Imagine.

Boomerang is the closest approximation to the group's capability. The opening body percussion is incredibly slick. I really love what arranger Katie Huber does to slowly add everything; it sets soloist Mia Puccio up perfectly to be the focal point. However, the build to the chorus is really lacking. This is again where energy would make all the difference, where having an incredibly energized build from a piano to forte dynamic would really let the chorus explode through the speakers.

The lack of impact across Tiny Bras really hinders the overall appeal; a better understanding of everything else that leads up to big impacts would really make this album shine. My challenge to the Sils is to understand; to make a pointed effort to not only reach different dynamics, but magnify them such that there is growth even in the lower levels, and the higher levels feel powerful yet controlled. That energy will not only add interest to the music, but will help the group shine its brightest.

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Ordering Information

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