This week on The Sing-Off, the six remaining groups from the first week of competition perform in two rounds. First, the sing a contemporary hit. Then, they sing a song from the 1960s. The groups competing tonight are: Afro-Blue (Howard University's a cappella jazz ensemble), [University of Rochetser's] YellowJackets (University of Rochester's all male a cappella ensemble), Urban Method ("rapappella" group), Vocal Point (Brigham Young University's all male a cappella ensemble) Kinfolk 9 (professional singers joining together for contest), and Delilah (all female alums from season 1 and 2). And just remember that I don't hate any of these groups. I'm tough because I work as a music director/arranger and can pick out where things go wrong real quick.
The full group performance is "Somewhere Only We Know" by Keane. The only way I can describe it is beautiful.
Up first in the contemporary hit round is Vocal Point. They're singing "Never Say Never" by Justin Bieber. There are tempo issues throughout the whole performance. They're not keeping a steady beat at all. There are big harmony problems on the chorus. The low end isn't balancing the rest of the ensemble at all. The breakdown before the second soloist is slightly off. The second soloist does not sound as good as the first. The end is great except for the first soloist's post--long sustained note over chord changes. He starts flat and adjusts to be sharp. It's messy. The arrangement is good. Their performance is just off enough to throw me out of it. It's a step back from their excellent performance in week one.
Ben found the performance enjoyable and liked the groove. Sara said they were fun to watch, confident, but wound up a bit stiff at points in the arrangement. Shawn said it was a good performance and liked the post at the end. I agree with Sara. Relax, get into the groove, and sell the song.
Delilah sings "Whataya Want From Me?" by Adam Lambert. I think the opening of just the soloist was a poor choice. It takes them a few chords to get into the groove. The first few additions to the chord are just slightly off on their part by part build. They could have chosen other singers to join in for a nicer blend at first. There is no variation in the arrangement. The first soloist sounds better than the second soloist, but then they both start screaming at the end. Screaming is not singing. It's a very rudimentary arrangement, but they actually sing for most of the performance this time. It's an improvement from the non-stop shrieks of their first performance.
Shawn says the first soloist is good. He liked the arrangement and understood the message of the song. Ben said the communication of the story was good and liked the choral approach. Sara thought it was stunning and liked the soloists. She at least notes that the second soloist was sharp. I agree with Sara by default of her having any negative critique of the group.
Urban Method performs "Just Can't Get Enough" by The Black-Eyed Peas. This is a strange choice for an a cappella group. It's all production on the original recording and I can't imagine making both halves of the song work.
The song is slowed down at first. The balance is a little off for me between the lead and the ensemble. The backing could have come up just a little to cradle the lead better. The two soloists aren't balanced with each other. The arrangement itself is very nice. The bass is fantastic going into the "switch up." The fast section is not as good and is static behind the rapper. It's overall a big step forward from their first performance.
Sara loved the arrangement for spreading the focus. She liked all three soloists and really liked the bass. Shawn said they have a unique niche and do it well. He really liked the beatboxer and bass and all the stuff tossed in behind the soloists. Ben said he loved the second soloist and rapper. The production was good and ambitious. I'm with Ben.
Afro-Blue (aka my favorites in the contest who can't do anything wrong even if they try) sing "American Boy" by Estelle. I like it better than the original. The groove is fantastic right from the start. The build into the first lead is nice. The staging is a beautiful picture that sells their version of the song. The bridge is fantastic, only topped by the transition into a brand new groove. It's an amazing performance. The balance, blend, pitch, arrangement, and performance are great. No notes for Afro-Blue. Well-done.
Shawn cannot talk. He says they took him back to the Harlem renaissance and loved the effortless scatting at the beginning. Sara says they were amazing, dimensional, had great staging, and were cute. Ben says he was blown away by the blend and stellar arrangement. I'm with Ben.
YellowJackets sing "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz. Why anyone would choose to "sing" a song with no melody in this contest is beyond me. There's a great chord structure at the beginning. They're a bit off at the start of the verse. I hate the autotune effect the lead goes with. The bass and beatbox need to double in volume to balance the rest of the song. The strange computer effect noises overpower the ensemble. The bass is sloppy on the chorus and the arrangement is static there.The bridge is fantastic, but the staging is just cheesy and the tenors on the "plink-uh plink-uh" at the end are just distracting. It's a step up from their last performance by virtue of not doing the West African accents again.
Ben says it was a great performance, but the second chorus was just too weak. Shawn says he liked the transition to full voice on the soloist, but wanted more bass. Sara says they were adorable, but were very unsteady on their groove. I'm with Sara.
Kinfolk 9 close out the first half of the show with "Price Tag" by Jessie J. Why anyone would choose to "sing" a song with no melody in this contest is beyond me. The chords are a little bottom heavy at first. They need to be fuller near the top. The lead is a bit soft on her diction and volume. It's a little distracting. The groove is good and the harmonies layered on the melody are strong. The arrangement is just so repetitive. I give them copious bonus points for stealing Xenia's award winning choreography from The Voice for the final chorus. Pointing to the left and to the right is love. This is better than their first performance.
Sara says there were a lot of wonderful moments. She thinks the first soloist was weak and the second soloist was much better. Ben says the bass was great, the beatbox was good, and they improved significantly. Shawn says it was solid and smooth, but could have used more dynamic variation. I'm with Shawn.
Starting the 1960s round is Delilah. They're singing "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vendellas. It's a very old-fashioned arrangement. It takes them a little bit to get into the groove and find all the right notes. No one is screaming, automatically making it their best vocal performance yet. The build on "part" is fantastic. The bass sounds great. She's really holding up the group nicely. I wish the arrangement was just a little fuller in the middle. It's bass and lead, essentially.
Ben says the arrangement was static and the performance was bad. Sara praises their showmanship and singers, but found the arrangement lacking. Shawn thinks the bass was fantastic, the second verse was a little shaky, and the whole thing had no middle. I'm with Shawn.
Urban Method performs "Dance to the Music" by Sly and the Family Stone. Like Delilah in the first week, I think this is a performance that came across better in person. The mix is pretty horrid. I think the intro was shaky. I heard some pretty major blend issues. Some of the singers aren't quite hitting their seventh's in the chords, creating bad dissonance. The bass solo is fantastic. I do not think this arrangement gelled at all. A step back for the rapappella ensemble.
Shawn, Ben, and Sara praise this performance to the heavens and I don't get it.
Vocal Point sings Frank Sinatra's "The Way You Look Tonight." I don't think they do anything technically wrong here. They cover a lot of different '60's sounds and do them well. I just think the whole thing is random with no transitions. Their approach drives me crazy. You can't just jump from samba to swing without any kind of link. The lead sounds fantastic in spite of the odd arrangement. A step back due to cohesion issues for Vocal Point.
Sara says the lead was amazing. She loves their polished and theatrical presentation. Shawn says they were swanky, smooth, slick, masculine, and playful. Ben says he liked how they covered all the styles. I'm with Sara. At least she didn't over-praise the arrangement.
My pick to win the whole thing, Afro-Blue, is next. They sing "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye. I love this performance so much. They actually transition between their various grooves and do it effortlessly. The grooves are great and their dynamics are spot on. The lead sounds lovely and the call and response on the verses is spot on. This group comes out every time and gets better. They also prove how off Vocal Point's approach was.
Ben thought their arrangement was random and threw in too many styles. Ben doesn't care for jazz, which is now evident from his previous comments of "but what you do is accessible." Ben's opinions of my Afro-Blue are now irrelevant. Shawn though the modulation at the end was effortless and praises the lead for taking care of the solo. Sara says they're musical masterminds. She loves their commitment. She thinks the bass was amazing, the solo charming, and loved the shifts in style. She would have liked a bookend of the original groove at the end. Team Sara for jazz literacy and for coming up with a better ending.
YellowJackets are performing "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" by Frankie Valli. The show introduces this as "from the hit musical Jersey Boys," which can only mean one thing: the group didn't actually do the challenge. I bet you they've done this arrangement of the song many times before.
I do not like the "trumpet" and "trombone" at the opening because they do not sound like a trumpet or a trombone at all. The group sound much better when the lead starts the verse. The lead is perfect on this song--charming, sweet, and effortless. The bass is good, but I could use more dynamic variation from everyone. The lead loses his diction on the chorus. This is the best the group has sounded.
Sara says they were fantastic. She thought they were polished and loved the tenor lead. Ben says they were outstanding and nailed the style. Shawn says it was just like the original. Team Sara, though Shawn confirms my suspicions about the arrangement.
Kinfolk 9 close out the night with "Let It Be" by The Beatles. They're going with a gospel feel. The first chord is off just a bit somewhere in the middle. Someone is sharp and it ruins the effect. After that, they're fine. The lead is committed to the performance and sounds fine until he starts shrieking. The whole thing is a bit bland and flavorless. It's like they don't know what to do with the song, so whoever took the most theory classes in college put together a standard counterpoint and told them all to sing it. This is a big drop from their last performance.
Shawn liked the emotional lead and layered approach. He though it was warm and powerful. Sara liked the expressive lead and thought they sounded natural. Ben thought the lead was outstanding by criticizes the group for holding back.
Unfortunately for Kinfolk 9, their lack of experience as a group and inconsistent sound gets them kicked off. Their swan song performance of "Loser" by Beck is the best they've sounded.
Thoughts? Don't be shy. Comment below.