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Sympathetic Vibrations

Georgia Institute of Technology

Stairwell Sessions (2023)


October 8, 2023

Tuning / Blend 3.7
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.7
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 2.3
1 Believer 3.3
2 Frustrated 3.3
3 You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You 3.7

Recorded 2018
Total time: 12:14, 3 songs

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
1 Believer 4
2 Frustrated 4
3 You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You 4

Stairwell Sessions combines class, style, and charisma with modern studio innovation to serve up a 3-track EP that makes it a fun listen. Perhaps being such a short soirée makes its blemishes appear and sound rather large at times. Like any good party, an established theme can help guests to not get lost.

What cannot be disputed is the caliber of musicianship that the Sympathetic Vibrations possess and put forth on Stairwell Sessions. They are fantastic singers who can really sell a moment and do so with gusto. The element that holds this EP back in many instances is an overabundance of ideas.

Believer is an example of a track that gets most things right on a technical level. It has a grand opening that hooks the ear with a dark and somber tone, packed with a fiery intensity. However, the track almost immediately begins to suffer from creative overload before the start of the first chorus. Shifting from slower tempos to a quicker pace in a song is not uncommon, but the frequency and instantaneous occurrences on Believer are almost jolting. The fluctuations in pace make it challenging for the listener to latch on to any sort of primary musical theme.

Furthermore, the vibe and feel of the first verse feel disjointed and disconnected from what is presented in the second. The arrangement could use more flushing out in the verses, specifically in the middle voicings. Lastly, the bass and lead vocals often overpower the other voice parts. A greater balance between all voice lines would make a world of difference.

Frustrated is a step in the right direction for the EP. The pop and R&B stylings feel more organic and natural for the group, and the verses establish a better connection with each other. In addition to the lead's silky falsetto, the Sympathetic Vibrations' blend is more refined in comparison to Believer. Each of the vocal parts seems to be more in-tune with one another, affording the track smoother transitions between sections and a greater level of appeal. The track's natural R&B stylings make any drawn-out pacing or emphasized vocalizations feel appropriate.

You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You comes out of left field given the previous offerings, but somehow shines as the project's best track. The fanfare is highly entertaining as the Sympathetic Vibrations milk every moment to prove they are old souls. The tempo is well managed, keeping the group right in pocket, and the backing support is exceptionally strong with high praise given towards energy, creativity, and balance. My favorite moment is the breakdown section where listeners are treated to glorious vocal trumpet harmonies. This is a wonderful display of delivering without doing too much.

Stairwell Sessions offers a solid listening experience, but there is little that connects the three tracks outside of production. Simplifying some of the musical concepts on an individual level could potentially unlock greater success for future Sympathetic Vibrations projects. The group has the skills; they just need to hone them.

Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
1 Believer 3
2 Frustrated 2
3 You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You 3

Sympathetic Vibrations' Stairwell Sessions is the equivalent of a Broadway flop: creative pitch ideas, a lot of work to get everything set in motion, and they make it to the finish line. But having a final product doesn't guarantee anything about the quality of the final product. In the Vibes' case, the innovation is here but the execution isn't, so the three-song one-act falls flat.

From the top, Believer has me thoroughly engaged for the first eighteen seconds. But once things start to scale back, it's easy to peel back the layers in the silence at the end of each short phrase and hear balance issues. Besides having that time to think, the chorus does not pack the kind of punch it sets up: both pitch and rhythm on the downbeat are lackluster in celebrating the journey to get there. While certainly interesting, the instrumental interlude and closing jazzy chord don't relate to much of anything that comes before, leaving them feeling relatively random when they arrive. To the group's credit, some of the individual chords are quite full and interesting in various choruses; it just feels like many ideas came together without cohesion.

Frustrated leaves me feeling ... well, you get the idea. Using multiple devices to listen, it sounds like some de-essing and massaging of some high frequencies were left undone in the editing process, leaving some harshness in the mix, particularly in the solo and vp tracks. Combine that with a lot repetitive sections and lyrics, and you might be frustrated, too.

You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You looks as if it might be the 11:00 number keeping the doors open, but the transitions from one tempo/feel to the next are stark, and not given quite enough support from the vp kit of sounds provided. Mouth trumpet is an excellent inclusion, and admittedly the jazzy chords of the arrangement are some of the best of the three tracks. But the randomness of feel change without the background moving in concert with vp significantly impacts this track as a whole.

It's clear that the Sympathetic Vibrations have great musical ideas, and while the Great White Way might not be in the cards, with a bit more cohesion and editing work, it is easy to see a path to excellence for this group in future productions.

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
1 Believer 3
2 Frustrated 4
3 You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You 4

What a strange release. There's only three songs on this album, so let's dig right in.

Believer feels vaguely reminiscent of the project in art class where each student is assigned one section of a larger image. When all the sections are put together, the entire image is a bit cohesive, but also radically disjointed. While never discordant, this track is filled with all sorts of stylistic changes, moving from off-beat pointillism, flowing 6/8 waltz, ominous unison, biting cluster chords, and ending on a large jazz chord. This piece makes so many changes that by the time I'm comfortable with the piece, I'm already thrown off guard again.

Frustrated is pretty standard fare for a R&B song. Richard Huckaby solos on this and puts on a clinic of vocal runs and falsetto high notes. Huckaby also arranged the piece, creating an incredibly theatrical release that is heavily solo-centric. At times, the emotion feels forced. I can understand what the group wants to do, but the track lacks any subtlety. All dynamic changes are drastic: it is either a soft moment or a loud one. This track needs to flow more smoothly between phrases, building to loud moments or decaying to the soft ones. A few drastic dynamic changes can be interesting, but all dynamic changes being drastic can become tedious very quickly.

You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You is a complete stylistic shift for the group. This track has a fun old-timey jazz feel, complete with studio effects to mimic old recordings. I could see this track being incredibly fun to watch on stage if the movements are hammed up. However, without the visual, it loses just a little bit of that joy and fun. I'm torn on this piece, as it's my favorite of the album, but it's so drastically different from how the group established themselves in the first two tracks. It might fit better in a larger release than a small EP.

For only three tracks, this release is all over the place in terms of what the group wants to present as their image. As a reviewer, I found my head spun around multiple times, always getting my expectations circumvented and replaced with another offering that is good, but not necessarily what I expected. It's a nice album for a fun little listen and to maybe add a track to a playlist with other songs, but not one I would actively search out. I think the rough edges might be smoothed out with a larger release to give more context to what sound the group is trying to promote. However, for a small release I'm left with more questions than answers as to what that sound is.

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Ordering Information

Stairwell Sessions streams on Spotify

  • Apple Music
  • Spotify