The Water Boys
Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea - Single (2022)
Review By Dan Fister
December 15, 2022
One of the most difficult parts of singing a cappella is song selection. So much rides on choosing a song that fits not only the current group and soloists, but also the performances venues (gigs, competitions, recordings). Moreover, will the song make for a good a cappella arrangment? What are the inherent strengths and weaknesses that a given song will have when trying to craft an all-voices cover?
Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea, the newest single from University of Waterloo's lower-voices group, The Water Boys, demonstrates how one ensemble tried to navigate some of these potential issues. The original song by electronic duo MISSIO has very little build to it, not much dynamic range, a static background piano part, significant repetition of previously used musical material, and reliance on post-production electronic manipulation. An a cappella arranger would have to work to write a more dynamic version of the song, potentially through significant original musical material or restructuring. Though arranger Tony Lu crafts some opportunities for the background voices to be present, singers besides the soloist, vp, and highest background voices mostly get lost in the mix. The dynamic range remains quite narrow; even the intensification at about the two minute mark, which I like, seems rather tepid and is followed by a minute-long outro that seems overly long and doesn't quite live up to the electronic effects the group is trying to imitate.
Beyond the arranging, some musical issues hold this track back from its full potential. The group's diction, especially that of soloist Angelo Lao, is not very sharp, and I had trouble understanding some of the words. Mismatching vowels between the upper and middle/lower background voices keeps the group from blending and tuning as well as they could have. I wonder whether the group — which recorded, edited, and mixed the track — would have been better served by bringing in outside technicians to run the recording and post-production so that better takes could have been captured.
This all being said, there are a couple standout musical moments I want to highlight. Alisa Lin (vp) performing a heartbeat-like pattern that emphasizes beats 2 and 4, rather than one hit on each beat as done in the original, creates some nice momentum. Also, the little moments where the background voices stand out in the second verse showcase them well: the blend there is the best of the track. I look forward to hearing how The Water Boys continue to grow in future releases.