Archive for October 31st, 2011

Well, what’s left?

As I have admitted, I watched episode 2 before episode 1. So I saw Pentatonix earlier than the others. Their first song alone had me falling out of my chair in amazement, bewilderedness, and above all, a HUNGER for more. How they do this and why they move into my first position will come after the analyses of the songs:

“E.T.” – (Signature) (iTunes, YouTube)
I was not familiar with this song. This added to the feeling that I can only define as, “I have never heard a sound like this.” A lyric tenor, a baritone with a high lift, and a woman with range hard to place. They each have their own sound and yet can get into tight harmonies in the same octave that personally I think is on par with the sound that Lennon and McCartney stamped all over the Beatles. But then you add in a very deep bass with a sense of harmony not merely rhythm and a beat box that produces sounds that you just don’t hear in Acapella that adds not just sound but dramatic character and you have an entirely new sound. More on these tight harmonies later.

“Your Love is My Drug” (Pop) (iTunes, YouTube)
A pounding rhythm and bass that sounds like an electronic track. Tight harmonies between the two high voices. Again placing a voice like Chris Colfer is not easy. And these voices just blend. You actually lose track of who’s on back up vocals because they stay the same regardless of the lead. And then the surprise. The beatbox not mearly sounds like he spins down the record, but the whole group follows in one motion. All the sound comes to a record stop. The song then goes VERY free form. Again… a sound I have NEVER heard. Now this was the song that Pentatonix has singled out for getting too far from the original. The judges didn’t take well to it. Shorter digression:


It is better that this hits Pentatonix here for two reasons: It’s earlier and it’s not as well known a song. You take Grapevine, and the later Pentatonix performed Video Killed and these are very huge classics. I think one can say that the average listener of “Your Love” has likely heard the other two songs and either loves them or hates them. The converse doesn’t hold and that works in Pentatonix’ favour. The average fan of Grapevine or Video Killed is more likely than not to have NEVER heard “Your Love is a Drug” which will afford them more leeway with audience buying them for the songs they know that do follow the three Rs.


“Piece of My Heart” (60s) (iTunes, YouTube)
This was a huge risk on the group’s part. Janice Joplin is a land mine of expectations. Not the least of which is taking a song of Feminine empowerment and giving the lead to a man. This was about as far as Pentatonix has gone from their core sound. The song works okay for them but they are at their best when they are bringing a song up a notch into a new realm.

“Video Killed the Radio Star” (Guilty) (iTunes, YouTube)
I honestly don’t know where to start with this. The magic of the backing vocals changing between people effortlessly shows here. This is the song where you really get the feeling that there are more than 3 primary voices in the group. Again the beat box brings in new sounds to an old classic while giving the utmost respect and reference to the original.


So what is it about Pentatonix that puts them in first place in my eyes.
Well my battery is almost dead but when I return there will be what I call a nearly endless arsenal of weapons of music construction.

Let’s go with the obvious ones First:

1) Avi Kaplan – Not merely a bass but one who has melodic control. The Bass is often relegated to the background. A strong bass is the foundation. An unbelievable bass is one that adds character.

2) Kevin “K.O.” Olusola – A beatbox that produces sound that add character and compliment to the music. Rhythm is more than just adding drum sounds. It’s adding the right drum sound or not-a-drum sound at the right time. K.O. finds sounds that compliment the songs to provide not just the rhythm, but the tone of the piece.

1&2 together) Often the bass does one thing; the beat does one thing, and sometimes they go into unison. Avi and K.O. have a penchant for creating and performing collaborations. Bass and Beat worked together to create a specific sound that would be “Wrong” if not done that way together.

1 & 2 – Did I mention they both sing on occasion to fill in parts?

3) The remaining 12 vocalists, all three of them.

In the early eighties a three sister a capella group called “The Roches” did a rendition of “The Hallelujah Chorus.” This wasn’t the best performance in the world or the cleanest voices. But the three voices were so matched in their harmonies that the lead changes would disguise the backing vocals flipping parts. You were never quite sure who was on which backing harmony and as a result you mentally heard more voices than there were.

Listening to “Video Killed” you really lose track of who is doing the backing harmonies.

4) Scott Hoying – A strong Baritone with a controlled tenor lift, bass drop, and soft falsetto. More often than not Scott is the front man on melodies. Hoying’s ability to move between ranges lets him instantly mesh with either of the other two vocalists on backing vocals.

5) Mitch Grassi – A high lyric tenor with an almost Chris Colfer sound can be a curse. In this case while it can be; it isn’t. Pentatonix makes very wise choices as to what will fit Mitch’s voice both in backing and in lead. Again, like Scott, his range makes his blends in the back effortless.

6) Kirstie Maldonado – Experienced with complex harmonies, a soothing alto and a powerful soprano prove as always that the biggest things can come in very small packages.

4&5&6 together) Bouncing off each other’s range, they effectively create harmonies that truly weave their voices. You’re never really sure who’s doing the backing vocals. I mentioned earlier concerning Lennon and McCartney. One of the strongest things they gave the Beatles were those intertwined vocals. They were unmistakably one and only one band. I think these three do this for Pentatonix.

Did I mention that they also sometimes fill in on the beatbox and the bass?

There truly is no sense of ego here. Everyone does all the heavy lifting, everyone will back away from the spotlight. Everyone has a job and knows it’s a team effort.

And then there’s the sound they create. It is not evolutionary it is revolutionary. Pentatonix takes the genre of A capella to a new realm. The judges describe them as ‘delivered from the future’ to ‘teach us how it should be done’

Pentatonix for me is the clear winner, because they are ALREADY working at a level that I’d expect from a group with a recording contract.

(Posted at 35,000 feet on an airplane! Whee!)

The movie “Fight Club” features a concept of the “Single Serving Friend.” On an airplane everything comes in Single Servings. Alcohol comes in little bottles; chips come in small bags; even the cutlery if you’re in first class is small.

Thanks to having a lot of miles of late (Two Cupertino trips Plus a first class trip to Seattle) I was able to upgrade my business trip back to Cupertino this week for miles alone. Traveling in First Class has its pluses and minuses. First class now a days means traveling with the 2nd .5%. And then the top 10% of the 99%. The top 10 of the 99% are cool. They know how much work and effort, it takes to get those upgrades. But the 2nd .5%… they are the scary ones.

These are the obviously wealthy, but not ludicrously wealthy. There is a gaudiness to the Swagger, Suit, Jewelry or attitude. Waiting on line to board I got to see one of these folk in action. In the city I often play a game I call “B or B” which stands for “Bluetooth or Bonkers.” Is the person talking to themselves or on a Bluetooth headset. The woman who wandered up to where we were queuing was not merely on a Bluetooth headset, but ranting at some poor invisible person like she was Bonkers. She was yelling to the person how even if she didn’t make her connection they would get her another plane. That there was no way she was missing this flight and there was no argument on this.

As she bickered with the luggage size limitation sign (as that’s where her eyes focused as she argued) she began inching closer to the front of the line. I was queued 3rd behind a very nice couple. I had my suit coat over one arm, I have a very nice red button down business shirt, and was waring my work back pack carrying my techno-stuff. When they called pre-boarding for small children and people needing assistance, she started to move forward and then seemed greatly put off that others were being boarded before her.

They then called first class and she moved in. “That’s alright we’re just queued here already,” I said in my standard Airport British Accent. When I don’t want to deal with people after they’ve been an ass in public, I put on a British accent. It really doesn’t accomplish anything; I think it’s merely a security blanket. Nonetheless, ignoring me and the nice couple she pushed in. Unfortunately, my backpack was there and she walked directly into it. She let out an unpleased oof, mixed with a sound that can only be described as the threat of an unwanted mastectomy. I of course as politely as possible turned about and said, “Oh dear, are you okay.” She was very angry.┬áThis was stunning as I actually hadn’t tried to get in her way, she just felt the need to be past me whether I was there or not.

As I looked down at her boarding pass I muttered, “Oh crap.” The nice couple said, “It wasn’t your fault. I wouldn’t worry about it.” I remarked, “No, I just saw her boarding pass, she’s sitting next to me for the next 4 hours..” “You’re the stronger person, I think you’ll survive.” (Mentally, I had an image of a Disco Ball crashing on the person’s head)

I got onto the plane and stood at my aisle seat. The woman looked at me and I said, “It looks like we’ll be sitting together then.” With a bit of venom she responded, “Well, obviously we’ve already gotten to know each other.”

Since then; not a word has passed between us. This is not surprising.

(You know, you really can’t write this stuff without living it.)