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Otto Tunes

Syracuse University

From the Closet (2023)

3.0

April 16, 2024

Tuning / Blend 3.3
Energy / Intensity 3.0
Innovation / Creativity 2.7
Soloists 3.3
Sound / Production 3.7
Repeat Listenability 2.7
Tracks
1 Everybody (OT's Back) 4.0
2 Can't Take My Eyes Off You 3.3
3 As She's Walking Away 3.0
4 Why Georgia 3.0
5 Simple Times 4.0
6 Goodnight 3.0
7 Summer Highland Falls 2.7

Recorded 2023
Total time: 18:53, 7 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Everybody (OT's Back) 4
2 Can't Take My Eyes Off You 4
3 As She's Walking Away 3
4 Why Georgia 3
5 Simple Times 4
6 Goodnight 3
7 Summer Highland Falls 3

The boys from Syracuse sure do know how to put together a track list. From the Closet has everything from the Backstreet Boys to John Mayer to Frankie Valli that should get any listener excited for what they are about to hear. But while there are some fun moments scattered throughout, my overall impression is that the EP falls a bit flat emotionally for what I was prepared for.

Everybody (OT's Back) is a great way to start off the record; I love the little ad libs through the track, and I really enjoy the subtle arrangement choices that Sammy Karp made on this track. The slowing down of the bridge and pause going into the final chorus is a nice little departure from the original track that sets this rendition apart just enough while still giving us what we would want from a Backstreet Boys cover. Frankie Gambino and Michael O'Connor channel their inner Jersey Boys on Can't Take My Eyes Off You and knock it out of the park — I could listen to at least another 2:15 on that track alone. It doesn't stray too far from the original track, but I think that's okay for such a classic tune.

As we get further along in the EP, the group runs out of steam just a bit. Some of the arrangements feel a bit underdeveloped and exposed, such as the bridge in As She's Walking Away or verses in Goodnight where I want a little something more from the background vocals. Dynamic contrast is lacking at times as well — the background vocals in the early verses of Why Georgia seem to overpower Ryan Myers, which may be a consequence of the "bah" vowel that is largely being repeated throughout.

Overall, the album showcases the immense talent that Otto Tunes has, but there's still a bit of fine tuning that the group can do for its next release. In the meantime, it may be a while before I pick up From the Closet again.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Everybody (OT's Back) 4
2 Can't Take My Eyes Off You 3
3 As She's Walking Away 3
4 Why Georgia 3
5 Simple Times 4
6 Goodnight 3
7 Summer Highland Falls 3

From the Closet is clean but lacks connection. I wish I could say more than that, but there aren't enough moments where the song choice, technical musicality chops, or soloists really grab me in a way that should define a signare sound for Otto Tunes.

There is a solid foundation here. The voices sound strong and crisp, production is solid, and song choice varies nicely between tried-and-true crowd pleasers and deeper cuts (though maybe it would've been better if the latter were more evenly spread rather than backloading the track list). There aren't really any moments I'd call "bad". Many of these strengths show up at their best on the opener, Everybody (OT's Back), where the Ethan Vernold solo is an excellent kickstart to the album's energy, and the most important thing is for nothing else in the track to distract too much from that.

But there are two things meant by a lack of connection, mentioned at the start of this review. These two pieces are both the biggest components holding the album back and biggest opportunities for leaping forward in quality.

The first is a technical lack of musical connection on a per-song basis. A cappella is a particularly challenging format for music because voices can, by default, leave a lot of empty space either during breaths or while holding pad notes with little variation. This can lead to choppy-sounding phrases as well as choppy song sections. The first four tracks on From the Closet suffer from this especially — it often feels like when the voices stop for a breath or rest, the song sounds suddenly empty until they return. Usually in a cappella, arrangements need careful structure that consistently gives the illusion of full sound even where there is none through clever multilayered interplay or even musical breathing plans. The same can happen if voices sing a pad chord harmony, but those voices stagnate instead of continuously feeding energy and momentum into these harmonies.

Simple Times and Summer Highland Falls are probably the closest songs on the album to achieve connectivity between phrases and sections. Simple Times also does a good job of maintaining this consistently enough to hold musical interest throughout its whole length.

The second aspect of connectivity for which I was searching is connectivity in broader arcs of the album. Each song should have a complete arc, and these arcs should tie together to form a broader album arc. On From the Closet, songs often end abruptly, or before they achieve what appear to be the musical goals. By the final song on the album, there are no moments that hit extraordinary or climactic highs or lows, and even the final song itself ends prematurely and on a strange closing note.

An album isn't just a tracklist — like a good novel or a film, there must be attention to the artistic journey, as that creates connection with a listener. This also means that connection is a key way to establish the personality of a group. While the cute lyrical changes throughout this release are fun on the first listen, they are highly reliant on the aforementioned surrounding musicality for their impact. Good execution on the latter makes those cheeky additions feel like earned icing on the cake, but a lack of connection everywhere else makes those moments feel cheesy and distracting on repeat listens.

As mentioned, nothing on this album strikes me as bad, but nothing strikes as impactful either. And impact is the key to leveling up when the college a cappella field is as stacked as it currently is. I'd like to see Otto Tunes focus on these ideas in the future, both on a technical and storytelling level. If taken to heart, that could be the group's major opportunity to level up, too.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Everybody (OT's Back) 4
2 Can't Take My Eyes Off You 3
3 As She's Walking Away 3
4 Why Georgia 3
5 Simple Times 4
6 Goodnight 3
7 Summer Highland Falls 2

From the Closet, the latest offering from Otto Tunes, showcases the diverse repertoire we expect of contemporary a cappella groups. But many of the tracks lack the energy and musicality to make them sizzle in the recorded medium.

Thanks to stellar production by Mel Daneke, we can hear the voices incredibly clearly and that the group is highly synchronized. But that same clarity makes very clear that the group hasn't found its blend; the tenors' timbre doesn't match up with the baritones and basses. I notice it especially on Why Georgia and Summer Highland Falls, but it's an all-EP issue.

Moreover, this sonic clarity seems to come at a price. The voices sound robotic, hitting all the correct pitches but without much feeling. Take Can't Take My Eyes Off You, for example. While the arranging has a few interesting moments, the track feels very static. Where are the dynamics, both large and small? I'm missing the forward motion and little swells, as well as dynamic contrast and long crescendos. The duet between leads Frankie Gambino and Michael O'Connor provides some nice moments, but the group doesn't support them with its energy.

While I like the arranging from Sammy Karp across the EP, the songs are very short and some are cut off early. Goodnight, especially, feels like it's missing a final chorus or an outro. Summer Highland Falls is maybe the only arrangement that doesn't sit well with me; the reimagining of the second half of the song doesn't marry the contemporary backbeat with the more traditional take on the solo by David Goz, and stilted background parts don't help the situation.

Everybody (OT's Back) and Simple Times are both a cut above the other tracks for different reasons. The former is a staple of tenor-bass groups, and the track combines everything we expect from the Backstreet Boys' original with some subtle arranging flair that makes it the "OT" version. The group sounds its most cohesive on Simple Times. Soloist Evan Kneedler also pushes the previously quiet, folksy Kacey Musgraves song into an almost pop-punk edge, in part due to how much higher the song lies in their range.

From the Closet represents a leap forward for Otto Tunes from earlier releases, especially in terms of arranging and production quality. Hopefully the group will continue to grow in future releases to bring a higher caliber of musicality and energy to the recording process.

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