Tag Archive: review

Pleygo No More

madLegoAbout 3 weeks ago we were referred by a friend and fellow parent to a site called #Pleygo. An interesting service hailed as Netflix meets Lego. You subscribe and get a stream of lego sets sent to you. Depending on the plan (low, medium, and high) you can pick from different sets. Medium for example would be about $30 a month and sets would be about $85 on the shelf to buy.

Of course, handing a child a lego set has inherent risk. Pleygo advertises that the sets come with a side bag of extra common pieces; sets are completely sterilized between uses; they allow up to a certain number of pieces to be lost when being returned; and of course have a procedure to buy the set if your child absolutely doesn’t want to part with it.

All of this and a one month 30 day free trial!

Except… It didn’t work. It was a complete fail for us.

About a month ago, we decided to hand them a credit card and see what 30 days would bring us. After one week of Aiden checking the mailbox to no avail I called them. They told us that our wish list (viewing queue) wasn’t full and that they fulfill from the list in order of availability. I explained that there was no mention of requiring a full queue and there was no way to know that everything that was on our mostly filled (80%) queue was all unavailable.

While on the phone, I padded the queue to fill it and noted that it would be a STRONG suggestion to let users know what sets are currently available and which aren’t. I was told that I should see a set within the first 7-10 business days but there was a strong back log.

From here I explained that I was on the free trial. I wanted to emphasize that my interest here was “Trial” not “Free” and that I was evaluating their service. That to this point I had to explain to my seven year old why there was no mail for him on a daily basis and no way to know if there was ever going to be any. The person noted she’s take the comments down (but really gave an attitude of ‘this is just the way we work.’

Last evening, two weeks later, I got a general “Aren’t we great, New Sets” email from Pleygo. It saddens me that at this point they’d all but slipped my mind. I made a note to myself to do a followup call this morning. going to the website I was (less than) surprised that the support phone number is no longer there. There is a limited support section that is primarily driven by community postings. There is also a blog that primarily is proudly talking about their tie in to the recent Lego Movie.

A long time ago I might have had more patience for this. But now money is tighter. The idea of having a wealth of (fairly expensive) Lego open up to my child for far less (even though it was a subscription) seems like a fantastic idea. That being said, NOTHING is worth trying to comfort a crest fallen child every day for two weeks for reasons other than, “I guess we just have to wait, I don’t know what’s going on.”

Obviously, I cancelled my “Free Trial” as I take solace in the fact that at least it didn’t cost me financially to know that the service failed the trial. Honestly, I hope in the long run the idea succeeds. But for now… There is far too much broken in the system for a person to join that ecosystem.

singofflogoA few thoughts going into Monday’s Sing-Off Season 4 Finale (this is being written before Monday’s show and does not take into account any of Monday’s performances).

Each of the three groups left has a different strength.

Vocal Rush has my heart; Ten has my head; Home Free has my ear.

Vocal Rush is full of youthful energy and exuberance. They have several strong leads and can pass the melody among them without a loss of momentum. I always find myself rooting for them. Sometimes the energy gets a little out of control and affects the harmony, but I have to really be listening for it, in most cases, for minor tuning issues to affect how I feel at the end of the performance. Which is usually wonderful.

I would be happy, and not surprised, if they won because they have an infectious sound and lots of potential. I would also not be surprised because, as a young group, they will bring the Glee and Pitch Perfect crowd to concerts and to iTunes.

Ten has experience, a mature depth to their choral sound, rich harmonies, and the ability to mix their voices to sound like even more than ten. I was surprised to learn in one of the background videos that none of them read music, and learn all of their parts by ear from the arranger (who is also the percussionist). They have been playing up their Gospel/Soul roots and it has been effective in showing off their style.  I’m not the biggest fan, personally, of the gospel-revival “come to Jesus” arrangements BUT there’s no doubt that when they build a song up to that frenzy, it’s infectious (and also in tune).

I would be happy for Ten if they won. They will be great in a tour with other artists (either the SingOff tour or with other Soul groups). I do not think they will win because they are not quite commercial enough for Sony.

Home Free has tight, seemingly effortless harmonies, a smooth-faced, smooth-voiced lead, a kick-ass bass and a country swagger. I really love listening to them even though country is not my favorite genre.  They have shown some growth and imagination in their arrangements; varying the style and drama within the song. I would like to see more of that variety and more of a build up to the climax of a song. That might be the only thing keeping them from being this year’s Pentatonix (more on that in a minute).

I would be happy if Home Free won. They show off the best of what a small a cappella group can do. I think they stand a fair chance of commercial success because Country music is hot, and Country fans are loyal. They may even have a rabid band of followers from the fair/festival circuit already.

One final note…

Since the P-word keeps getting brought up this year, the inevitable comparison to Pentatonix will surely show on the finale since they will actually be performing. None of this years groups are as good or as exciting at PTX. We have not seen Shawn Stockman stand up and laud anyone for “being sent from the future to save a cappella.”  However, I think Home Free, and not VoicePlay, are this years closest equivalent because of the tight harmony (basically a quartet with a percussionist). Sure, PTX and VP each had four men and a woman, but in PTX, Kristi does not (usually) sing lead; she fills in the middle harmony. VP was much more “all about the girl”, almost like the guys were her backup singers. PTX has a lead but it always feels like an ensemble no matter who has the melody. Home Free has much more of the ensemble feel along with the close harmonies, but a much different energy.

Until next time…


The Sing-Off_ Season 4, Episode 6- Judges' Choice - EPWe’re coming to the end of the Armchair Director (and Judge’s) posts on the Sing Off for 2013. The ratings seem to indicate that this will definitely be back for next season. Hopefully, they can find a way to put it on the schedule more than once in a year. granted, I’m a very greedy fan of the series.

Of course while it’s off the air, I’ll be continuing the Armchair series. I’m going to be keeping Erin on as so many of you have read her posts and given it likes and +1s and the such on social media. Please also feel free to share our links if you enjoy them. Like anything in the interwebz your voice raises other voices. And in A Cappella, who could ask for more.

Of course this begs the question… what would you like the armchair(s) to look at next? And… if it’s not something we review… is it something you’d like us to reserve _you_ an armchair for?

But I greatly digress because here comes the Penultimate 2013 Sing Off Episode. The “Judge’s Choice.” Firstoff, thanks to Erin for her post on this episode. (She was so nervous that she got her post up before mine. Personally, I thought it was fantastic 😉

Of course every episode starts with a “Flashback.”

This week’s production piece was “Shake It Out.” As opposed to last episode’s “Dirty Dancing” intro; this one packed in the ‘OOMPH’ that was certainly lost in the previous. With only four groups in the production  combined with the experience of working with the production team; you can really begin to tune harmonies better. those tunings definitely showed bringing a very beautiful and nigh-angelic blend. The piece was just fantastic.

Time for the Theme and Nick to get us started.

One elimination tonight to get us to our final 3 for Monday’s BIIIIG finale. More on that at the end. Nick re-introduces us to the groups (which I think everyone else either has a favourite or happily like me is utterly stumped.) Nick, then does the short introduction of the judges. (For two hour episodes they respond, in one hour episodes they smile as their Twitter ID embosses on the screen)

Last episode was Party Anthems, this episode the judges have something truly terrifying in store for the groups. That’s right… Nick Lachey will be the mentor. Well, I guess the boy band is happy 😉 Tonight’s episode is “Judge’s Choice.” I like moving that back from the ‘Post vote’ episode. This lets the group get into their element under the gun one last time. It gives them the chance to say, “I know this song is a ‘Gimme’ now what can we do to surprise you and Give back.” To this day, I think PTX’s “Dog Days are Over” makes Florence and the Machine’s version sound like a bad cover. And the song was from the latter.

Nick as Mentor had one nice statement:

Dreams are the Foundation of Creativity

And I think that is really important on infinite levels in any line of work or play. It’s not just for this show.


filharmonic1. The Filharmonic – “Baby I need your Lovin'” – The Four Tops

What I said:

To think that I’d ever enjoy a 90’s boy band. These guys have a locked in sound. They have a style and swagger to match. Finally, they have an ear for arrangement and performance that really pulls people in. After the last episode they also have figured out how to rip their hearts to shreds to bring it to the next level. Whereas Vocal Rush comes unglued when they have fun, The Filharmonic becomes unglued when they don’t put the full emotion in. Filharmonic needs to keep focus, not make tuning errors, and be as openly honest and without fear as Vocal Rush. Low odds, but I think they have a better chance of overcoming/hiding their shortfalls better than Vocal Rush does.

Why it was picked:

Shawn Stockman: Boy bands aren’t just a creation of the 90s. They existed in the 80’s the 70’s. You have to get out of just the 90 sound and go to the root of where this came from. To Shawn Stockman this means going all the way to The Four Tops. This is an iconic example of the type of sound that it all comes from. What Stockman and the judges need to see is that the harmonies stay locked. Practice them. In Nick’s mentoring he tells the group that 98 Degrees would practice by breaking the harmonies into pairs, singing two parts on their own, then bringing them back together.

Going In:

I gave The Filharmonic 12.5:1 with a slight edge over Vocal Rush. These two groups have very specific (and at times opposite problems.) It’s up to both of them to see who can fix themselves better. Filharmonic has the numbers and the technique, Vocal Rush has the Passion.

The Performance:

It was clean. The brought the harmonies in tighter. They had a mature show. he choreography definitely fit the style. There was some build. But there’s where the problem was. There was some build but not enough. The crowd loved them (which is sadly hard to gauge the level of authenticity vs. Televised engineering). The ending was just a bit on the abrupt side. Honestly, I (and likely the judges) wanted more.

The Judges:

Shawn: Slick Choreography. Figured how to get the screams. Build up didn’t get any higher. You need to get to the full build.

Jewel: Definitely locked the harmonies. Let a classic be a classic. Shows restraint and maturity.

Ben: Took the notes and worked on the pitch. Dropped the rhythm ball. That sells a lot of record. Still got a little ways to go

At this point I have The Filharmonic on the Bottom. (Sad day… As always, I do like them all)

NBC cut to a break and after one commercial there was a technical glitch. (Was this national or local?) The NBC peacock image was on the screen, rotated some colours and then went away. It did this for about 3-4 times. I referred to is as Hypno-Peacock for the fans of Futurama out there. The show came back only slightly into Nick’s welcome back.


USO5-2T_R2. Ten – “Proud Mary” – Ike and Tina Turner

What I said:

I was not a big fan of Ten going in. Gospel and R&B has to kick me so hard I’m grateful for it to really touch me. Ten’s initial foray was very scattered. You could tell it was 10 really good singers looking to come together. While it’s not obvious from the crunched in schedule; taping for this series was over weeks rather than days. Ten has obviously matured and coalesced into a group. They will only get better with each performance. Good odds for survival tonight.

Why it was picked:

Ben Folds: Ben’s comments are short. We really think that Ten can make this song explode. The intro talks about how Skyfall was very strong for them stylistically, but the group is overjoyed at this choice. They are certain that the judges have no idea how much of a “Gimme” this one is. They are certain that they will “Blow the roof off.” From a mentoring point of view the group asks Nick how to maintain respect within the group. He talks about how any number of group members will have disagreements, but you ALWAYS keep the respect. Don’t confuse conflict with lack of respect. (Good advice)

Going In:

My odds of survival for Ten were a near even 2:1. Ten’s biggest problem was the obvious lack of cohesion for a new group. Ten has very clearly conquered that. Now they stand toe to toe with the other strong groups and their real issue is finding a unique sound that tells us what the group is beyond straight Gospel/R&B. Sadly, this song is not really going to give them a lot of room to get out of that niche. As long as they don’t utterly fall apart, they are in.

The Performance:

I love the narrative opening. It put’s a “Kids, sit down while the grown ups give you a lesson in music” and of course then explodes. It was a slow entry and then a wild ride. This packed a lot of punch. Granted, they are up against the MIGHTY Tina Turner. They hold their own well. And the lead singer does some great Tina. It’s fun, it may be a bit too much. This does not affect the singing. I loved it. But they probably could even have been wilder. I have mental images of live performances from the late 60’s and early 70’s where it was just a PARTY. This was a Party, it just didn’t reach PARTY

The Judges:

Ben: That was really strong. The intro was so perfectly behind the beat. Don’t fall back on the muscle. DOn’t be afraid to take risks.

Shawn: Very Proud. Deedee killed it. No doubt while you’re still in it. Because I know how powerful you are.. The DooDoo was to tame. Get the blowback effect. Still more to give.

Jewel: Big shoes to fill DeeDee, you did a great job. Great Growl. Still hit the clear crystal tone. Looks as artists. We need to see you as an artists. Missing identity outside of Gospel. What kind of records do you want to cut.

My ranking:

  1. Ten
  2. The Filharmonic

Going into commercial:

Shawn comments that it was still too mellow.

From Twitter:

@elielandau (Of who I have become a fan and now follow) “Wait. You don’t understand their identity outside of gospel, but you gave them “Proud Mary”? What did you think they would do?”


home-free3. Home Free – “Colder Weather” – Zac Brown Band

What I said:

A Cappella-Country with a great cross over sound, a stunning lead vocalist, an unbelievable bass (No worries, still a fan of the Avi the Bass Canon), and of course who could forget, a beard! Home Free has a sound that isn’t just original, it’s tight and creative. I was worried in the early weeks that they were getting formulaic, but they managed to find a surprise in each episode. Good odds for survival tonight.

Why it was picked:

Jewel points out that they haven’t really touched on the ballad during the run of the series. This will force them to bring up the emotional tug of a song. In the intro Nick mentors the group to Hone in on the emotion of the song. They need to ‘feel it’ otherwise the audience won’t ‘buy it.’ The emotion needs to come from a real place. The pre-produced skit is humourous as they all go in to a barbershop to get cleaned up and suggest that Rob “The Beard” has shaved. Which he hadn’t. But fun.

Going in:

I gave Home Free 2.5:1 or just slightly less than Ten’s chances to survive. Meaning these are my two top picks.  Home Free has truly found the way give us a slightly different look with songs and I have no doubt (Too soon?) that they will give an amazing ballad and clearly sail to the final 3.

The Performance:

Rob “The Beard” leads the vocals. This is a huge change. It’s not as strong as Tim or Austin, but it is pure and honest. This is hugely what the judges wanted. As the tempo comes up the other vocalists come in. Austin brings in the next wave. There’s almost no choreography, but the sound and the emotion are clear. This group has nailed what they needed to.

The Judges:

Shawn: Rob: Wow. That was really nice to hear you step out. Austin: This boy is a beast. A slight fluctuation in pitch. Still a treat.

Ben: As artists some of the best stuff is the scariest stuff. If you can step off the ledge… Do it. Get out of your comfort some.  Great generous performance.

Jewel: Less is more when you have talent. And you do. You shy away from your comfort zone. Austin don’t be afraid of your comfort zone.

My ranking:

  1. Home Free
  2. Ten
  3. The Filharmonic

From Twitter: ‏

@IoannesMartinus (John Martin Tenor from season 2’s Street Corner Symphony) – So, when Shawn said there were some pitch issues, did he mean that one IV chord that wasn’t quite solid?



vocal-rush4. Vocal Rush – “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” – Fallout Boy

What I said:

Every episode they show more depth, more maturity, and more style. This group has so many different and eclectic weapons in their musical arsenal to call from. Vocal Rush’ ongoing danger has come from their biggest asset. They know no fear. The put it all honestly out there and that means if it’s fun, they are going to bring the party. And the care-free attitude is where the really hard hitting songs begin to break down. If they can conquer this, they’re in… If they let it get away from them, the other thing that will get away is the competition. Sadly… Lowest odds for survival tonight.

Why it was picked:

Back to Ben Folds. They’ve been singing a lot of ‘Old People’ music. Time to sing something from their time. In the Intro the group talks about how they feel like they’ve transformed from being just “Those High School kids” into a respected team on the show. They feel they have an enormous chip on their shoulder and want to prove that they can make it all the way.

Going in:

I gave Vocal Rush the worst odds to make it into the finals. At the time I felt badly. Barring a home run or a complete meltdown, combined with the Filharmonic not really bringing it, I am pretty sure they are in. The question is how badly will they have to fight in an “Ultimate Sing Off” if it’s not a home run?

The Performance:

Vocal Rush has been holding back. The old songs they work for. This was the first time I heard them sound effortless. This was also a new experience for me. They made “The Wall Of Sound” work for me. And I don’t say that lightly. The energy did not damage the harmonies. While I acknowledge my ear is not best for that; they sounded better than they ever have. The energy from the group was astounding. I’m honestly believing this was their first home run if not a grand slam.

The Judges:

Jewel: You did so many things right. You sound like an artist. Collective Identity. You lived up to the pyro blast.

Ben: I was rocking. First time I was glad to be wearing glasses. Playful drama. Only thing I noticed: the 5 chord below the chorus.

Shawn: You take on every song with reckless abandon. You take it on full. With every song.  Technically: The bridge was so hyped that you didn’t give yourself to take it down before up again. The little things. The schmaltz.

My ranking:

  1. Vocal Rush
  2. Home Free
  3. Ten
  4. The Filharmonic

My call for the Ultimate Sing Off:

Ten takes apart The Filharmonic

First off for the group vs. group for who’s safe

  • Home Free vs. Ten
    • Home Free: Stars. Professional. Lost the pitch at the top. Hasn’t really stepped off the ledge.
    • Ten: United in praise at DeeDee’s solo. At times too mellow. Needs to take BIGGER risks
    • Safe: Home Free
    • USO: Ten
  • The Filharmonic vs Vocal Rush
  • Filharmonic: Dropped the ball on rhythm and arrangement
  • Vocal Rush: Rocked out. Bridge missed the chance to go to the next level.
  • Safe: Vocal Rush
  • USO: The Filharmonic

The final song is “Should I Stay or Should I Go” which I think while the topic is relevant, the song is a 6-alarm WTF for both groups.

Neither group has a really astounding performance here. Ten is a little muddy while Filharmonic is back into rhythm but lost some of the show. Both had good and bad points but neither group really reached me enough to put many more notes down beyond that. Performance-wise I think The Filharmonic may have edged Ten here. But taking into consideration their earlier performance, and where I think both groups potential lie in the series. I’m thinking the judges will pick Ten.

Each group speaks about how they feel:

  • Ten: It would mean everything to make it to the finale. But if not. It means everything to us
  • Joe: Making it this far… we’re so far. We just want to represent for a cappella. We’re happy.

The Judges decide to save Ten.

Next Episode: Last Episode of the year (and hopefully not the series…again)

Monday @ 8pm the 2 hr finale.

Performance from the groups, the judges, Nick (and 98 degrees), Pentatonix, other survivors?

Downside. No live show, no fan voting. Hopefully no charity editing.

The Sing-Off_ Season 4, Episode 6- Judges' Choice - EPEpisode 6 – “Judges’ Choice”

The groups still in the game – Home Free, Ten, Vocal Rush, and The Filharmonic.

Home Free – five men in their twenties, super-tight harmonies, clear tenor lead with the occasional toss to the uber-bass. Lots of performing experience at festivals. They consider themselves “country a cappella” but they are proving to be comfortable applying their style to songs that are not traditionally “country.”

Ten – Ten members (duh), mixed voices. Mature, rich sound, lots of experience as background singers so the harmonies are very full and developed. All of the leads shine. I will steal from Jewell here because she verbalized what I was thinking, which is “I’m not sure what kind of group you are. What kind of records do you want to cut?” This has been puzzling me as well.

Vocal Rush – Performing arts high school group. Twelve members, full of energy and heart, with some pretty mature abilities. The harmonies are a little light on the low/middle end which is really the only thing that highlights their youth.

The Filharmonic – Classic boy-band, adorable, energetic. They have a couple of solid leads that are holding things down pretty well. They have been on the chopping block a couple of times and I personally feel they don’t have a lot of variety; they stick right on the 90’s boy-band sound all the time and I’m getting a little tired of it.


Opening number:

I didn’t know the song but as usual, the opening number was completely enjoyable. I think the bass from Home Free must sing at a sub-sonic level.


The Filharmonic: “Baby I Need Your Lovin’”

Pretty much the same old thing. I didn’t hear enough soul. The lead was happy and sincere but I still didn’t feel quite enough desperation in “I neeeed your lovin’’” Nice choreography, fun to watch but the ooomph was missing. You can’t just throw it a pelvic thrust and equate it with the true aching need that you hear in the Four Tops version. I’m’a leave Jewell’s comments about climaxes alone.

Ten: “Proud Mary”

Wow, this is a song I have trouble imagining a cappella. But of the groups here they are the only one that could probably pull it off. Oh yeah, they did. Very solid, enjoyable performance. The “Tina Turner” lead got a little breathless occasionally, but she wasn’t locking a chord with anyone, and it seemed to fit with the frenetic pace of the song. The backup was really what made this arrangement.

Home Free: “Colder Weather”

I didn’t know this song at all so I could only judge this performance against other Home Free performances. It was clearly in their wheelhouse. Loved Rob’s solo, so beautiful and sincere. I actually liked his better than Austin’s solo. Austin shied away from the “country vowels” they were a little too rounded for this song. You have to do that in a choral arrangement if other singers are singing the same words at the same time, but I don’t think they were; he could have freestyled it just a touch more. And why does he always go “Bah-ah-ay-bee”, instead of “Bay-yay-yay-bee” like most self-respecting country vocalists? I enjoyed the performance and overall it showed off their strengths and reminded us where they came from.

Vocal Rush: “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark”

I didn’t know this song either. Because I’m hopelessly out of touch. But, this meant, again, I didn’t have a prior performance in mind to compare their arrangement to. Classic Vocal Rush performance; energetic, lots of variety in the arrangement. Thought I heard the various leads go sharp here and there (dark and fire). But, they were so, so, in it and I was in there with them. I can see this group selling tickets, if not records, based on the popularity of Glee and Pitch Perfect. Maybe more so than Ten even though Ten is much better technically.

Safe: Home Free & Vocal Rush

USO: Ten & The Filharmonic

Ulitmate SingOff: “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” (BTW WTF???)

The Filharmonic pretty much did their same old thing and they did it well. But as usual there was no variety. In contrast, Ten seemed to have a different flavor to each verse. And their sound is so much bigger (not just because of more members but also because of more sound in the lower range) that Fil was clearly overwhelmed.

The thing is, a Filipino Boy Band might sell more tickets than a mature gospel/soul group. Based on vocal performance, my winner is Ten by a lot. If the judges are using commercial viability as a criterion, they might go with Filharmonic.

drum roll…Ten is safe!!!  I’m happy to see talent win over commercialism this teeny-weeny time.

Until the finale…







The Sing-Off_ Season 4, Episode 5- Movie NightMy quick rundown on the three Ultimate Sing-Off match-ups from Episode 5

AcoUstKats vs VoicePlay – “Eye Of The Tiger”

Well, it was very entertaining. They were totally transparent about this being pre-staged this time. The show seemed to be trying to keep that secret up to this point. Acoustikats lead lost control of the pitch a couple of times. It was so much about staging and working together I don’t think I can judge their performances separately.  I still hope Voice Play is the one they keep out of this pairing (consistent with my pre-USO pick).


Ten vs Vocal Rush – “Fame”

Another “let’s work together” number. Good performance, I really enjoyed it. maybe they should tour together. I think that Ten’s verses were richer and actually sounded more like a band than Vocal Rush. From a business point of view, Vocal Rush may be more commercial, because they are young, and I’m afraid that may start to play into the decision. Toss-up; I am chickening out of a call on this one. (I didn’t realize there were going to be three…so I didn’t pick a third in the pre-USO write up.)


Home Free vs The Filharmonic – “I’m Alright”

Fun! And not in a bad way. No missteps that I detected. In the rare times that each group sang by themselves, they had their own character. Home Free had tighter, richer harmonies even though there are fewer of them. They were my pick out of this pairing (consistent with my pre-USO call).

If they had put The Filharmonics against the Acoustikats I would have been in trouble. But they didn’t!



Home Free, Ten, and Vocal Rush all safe. Yaaay!

One left to save out of Voice Play, The Filharmonic, and Acoustikats – The Filharmonic? Really?

Upon reflection, they will round out the final four and make an entertaining show. Voice Play had been a little uneven throughout but I think I would rather hear a Voice Play concert than a Filharmonic concert because everything Fil does sounds the same. I’m looking forward to the Final Four. This season is really going way too fast though.

Until next time…