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Juxtaposition

Virginia Polytechnic Institute

Thrill of the Chase (2022)

4.0

November 15, 2022

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 3.7
Innovation / Creativity 3.7
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 Break My Heart 4.3
2 I Don't Miss You At All 3.7
3 Bless the Broken Road 3.3
4 Erase Me 5.0
5 Karma 4.0
6 Stuck on You 4.0
7 No Time to Die 4.3
8 Lose Somebody 4.0

Recorded 2022
Total time: 26:22, 8 songs


TeKay
4
Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Break My Heart 4
2 I Don't Miss You At All 4
3 Bless the Broken Road 3
4 Erase Me 5
5 Karma 4
6 Stuck on You 4
7 No Time to Die 5
8 Lose Somebody 4

Is there ever a time when "S"-words are seemingly too pedestrian to use as descriptors for your experience with a piece of music? When words like sultry, sexy, sophisticated, and scintillating are just too "safe" and "saccharine" to use successfully. Or when you are saddled with a few tracks that come off as a bit sophomoric when compared with the overall situational soundscape of the rest of the recording. Stymying, isn't it?

Such is the case with the latest release by Juxtaposition from Virginia Tech University. The album, Thrill of the Chase, is a great album. I really enjoy listening to it and think you will as well. James Gammon Productions has done a fantastic job of harnessing the musical talents of these gentlemen into a pleasing plethora of plaintive wails and peacock posturing tunes. At various times, I swooned, swore, shrieked and swayed according to the mood and response evoked by a particular soloist, an intriguinging arrangement lick, or some effective dynamic transitions or obligatto lines — often within the same song (I Don't Miss You at All, No Time to Die).

If I do have one complaint about the sound, it's that the extra sheen put on the tracks emphasizes some of the artificiality of the music. I'm not sure how to explain it other than, say, listening to Bless the Broken Road; it makes me notice the production effects added to the song instead of the song being enhanced by them. It just sounds fake, especially when bookended by I Don't Miss You At All and Erase Me, which tend to favor a more grounded and natural sounding timbre even though production is just as prevalent. There is a warmth in the latter two that the former doesn't possess, which exacerbates the falseness.

Arrangment-wise, Thrill of the Chase does seem to be in a transitional moment for the group. Seven people have their hand in arranging the eight tracks on the album. That's a lot of different creative energy pulling the group in different directions. That's not a bad thing at all for a collegiate group; you want to have more than one person at the helm with the ability to crank out some music for the group to perform. Doing so does run the risk of not having a cohesive sound across numerous tracks, and that is what has happened here. Thrill of the Chase is missing that overall "juxtasound" that I've mentioned in the past. Oddly enough, the song that most fits the concept wasn't penned by a group member but professional arranger Isaiah Carter. Carter's No Time to Die is a well-constructed masterpiece, and the guys are freaking fantastic on the delivery! I had a lot of s-moments across multiple listens. Soloist Matt Balcells is marvellous.

I'd be remiss though to not mention Dijuan Gilbert's adeptness as both an arranger and soloist. His construction of Erase Me in pixels and performance is near perfection. If he's also a choreographer, he's definitely be an a cappella triple-threat.

Thrill of the Chase is a satisfying album.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Break My Heart 4
2 I Don't Miss You At All 3
3 Bless the Broken Road 3
4 Erase Me 5
5 Karma 4
6 Stuck on You 4
7 No Time to Die 4
8 Lose Somebody 4

Thrill of the Chase offers another slick and mostly commanding R&B romp from Juxtaposition. I like this group. I like Juxta enough that when a member registers the group's latest release at RARB, I sit up and get ready. Then I wonder if a collegiate group with an impermanent roster of musicians can maintain what members before them have released. So far, so good for Juxtaposition.

The bookends of Thrill of the Chase are classic Juxta — which is to say, produced & poppin' tunes that manage to still be beautiful. Break My Heart and Lose Somebody are signature works from this group, both fancy and commanding while still sounding heartfelt.

It's more uneven in the middle parts of Thrill of the Chase. I Don't Miss You At All is a short, delightfully cheeky ditty that could offer a bit more on the arrangement. Likely a hoot to hear live, though. Bless the Broken Road hangs on to its awesome country roots but has a light and too synthetic hip hop brush dotting over the lead and production; I think it should have gone more intentionally R&B for innovation. And then, Erase Me. This track offers gorgeous, nearly impossibly gorgeous singing, combined with an equally stunning score. There's a tremendous amount of work on display here, both from Juxta and from the group's producer, James Gammon. You'll sit transfixed.

Interestingly, the group's last album also had a track called Karma. This one is decidedly different, and stronger, so I'll take the reprise. The singers kick up the energy to bring Thrill of the Chase home — we get big levels and big feelings for Stuck on You, and my God, we even get a deliciously dramatic Bond song with No Time to Die. And as stated earlier, classic Juxta at the finish line.

Listen, this is a solid group. If this is your kind of music, I think you'll like what you hear.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Break My Heart 5
2 I Don't Miss You At All 4
3 Bless the Broken Road 4
4 Erase Me 5
5 Karma 4
6 Stuck on You 4
7 No Time to Die 4
8 Lose Somebody 4

I want to love this album so much more than I do. Juxtaposition has always been one of those groups that is a staple of any good collegiate a cappella collection. This Virginia Tech men's group always seems to find its way onto any number of compilation albums over the years, and Thrill of the Chase proves to be no different. If you told me today that one of these tracks will be featured yet again, I wouldn't be surprised. There is so much to love about this album; and yet for some reason, I am not as enamored as I want to be. For as good as this release is, there is a lack of consistent emotional depth that holds Thrill of the Chase back from being something truly special.

Let's start at the top with my favorite track. Break My Heart is such a great opening for this album; Paula Nannou's arrangement is driving, but filled with many dense and colorful chords. On top of that, Dijuan Gilbert gives a performance that is both pop and jazz and is dripping with nuance and musical riffs. This track is all about giving the soloist the foundation to let their story be told while still being interesting without them. This is the excellence that we've come to expect from Juxtaposition.

However, when we start getting through the album, we start hearing songs like Bless the Broken Road. The first thing that sticks out to me about this piece is how it seems more to meander about a point rather than make it. Soloist Tristian Floyd has a wonderfully peaceful voice. However, the whole song seems to operate at one dynamic and intensity, resulting in a performance that sounds absolutely wonderful, but does very little to provide emotion or spark interest.

No Time to Die is the strongest case study for the group. This piece is overflowing with a smattering of haunting emotions ranging from self-loathing to revenge. The arrangement is filled with a whole array of dark and poignant cluster chords and creates a perfect backdrop for soloist Matt Balcells to float over the top with a falsetto voice. The backdrop is there for the group to succeed in every possible instance, but the delivery rests in a mezzo forte pocket and has so much trouble leaving it behind. There are moments where it feels like the group dynamic should drop to virtually nothing, and yet the group doesn't do so. The climax of the piece lacks that pure emotional release to demand the listeners attention. The result is a song that I want to love, but feel disappointed about. Everything is set up for Juxtaposition to succeed, and somehow it's left as an empty promise of what could have been an amazing song.

As I try to summarize Thrill of the Chase, it is similar to the way in which a college student handles a blow-off course. There is at least a hint of an attempt because the class is needed, but the full effort seems to be missing to consistently perform. For Juxtaposition, the solution is simple. By just putting in the effort to let the emotions fully arrive and give every ounce of energy, it would propel the next performance to not only be good, but the next-level album that will be a staple of a cappella collections for years to come.


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Ordering Information

This album is available on every major streaming platform, including Spotify and Apple Music.

  • iTunes
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