The Sing-Off is back, and I must say, I’m glad to have it here, cheering up my Monday nights with sincerity and harmonies again.

I was surprised to recall today, with a little prodding, that, in truth, this show has only ever aired for three weeks. It ran for four days in one week during its first season, and went in for a two week run in season two. I’d somehow erased this incredible memory from my memory. I remembered incorrectly that it had been spread out to one episode a week, but, as it turns out, only three weeks in my life have in fact been Sing Off’d before. In spite of this, I feel sort of intimately familiar with the show’s rhythms and its quirks, like I’ve lived with them for a lot longer. It’s comforting to see that stage again and have a giant choir harmonizing at me about how I’m perfect… which really makes me feel better about myself. Heck, I’m even starting to like Nick Lachey now! That being said, let’s dive right in.

Delilah

Part 1

The Yellowjackets – “Waving Flag” by K’Naan

A strong opening to the show. “Waving Flag” is exactly the kind of song that is kinf of out of left field, but wonderful for this competition. They didn’t perform a whole lot of vocal
trickery, at least not as much as they could have, which is what I think Sara was getting at in her comments, but, to be fair, the song really doesn’t seem to call for that. It’s a kind of barrel ahead thing, and the wonderful thing about what the Yellowjackets did was appreciate some moments along the way, make them truly soar, and put on atruly professional sounding performance..

The Fannin Family – “Who Says” by Selena Gomez

They’ve been semi-popular on YouTube for a while and they deserve it. They’re creative, good and different. What was missing tonight was some of the vocal family quirks I’ve seen them display on medleys of songs before. They have an arranging flair that makes what they have (a rather unique family group vibe) sound transcendent, and that was missing
from all but the opening salvo this time out. As usual with the Fannins, it’s the boys who can’t really support the girls here. What they have is two tenors and a baritone, and the pitch issues on Youtube videos have always come from the male voices. You can hear them breathing, missing notes, fumbling around. More male support would be nice, but as Ben said, the Fannin’s can’t really be faulted for not being born with a bass among them.

(Below is my personal favorite Fannin arrangement, solely because of the chorus)

Afroblue – “Put Your Records On” by Corrine Bailey Rae

The first group to truly own the stage and put something you haven’t heard before out there. The Yellowjackets look like their trying on a flavor for the first time when they sing K’Naan, but Afroblue appears effortlessly to be an incredible flavor all its own – “warm butter on grits” as Shawn put it. There are so many things I loved here. The stools. The solo. The slooow tempo. But the best part: oooohhh, that bass. Reggie! That was some incredible bass work.

Delilah – “Grenade” by Bruno Mars

I won’t lie. I thought Delilah would be the sacrificial lamb here. All-girl groups have a spotty track record on the show. Largely those groups have been three things: shrill, unpolished, and early exiters. Lo and behold that will not be the case this time. Delilah was amazing on “Grenade.” From the soloist channeling a little bit of Joplin, to a slow throbbing arrangement that took it’s time to really feel, they just did everything right.
I recognize none of these girls from past seasons, but they took the notes they received from the judges to heart, clearly, and they came back with a perfect formula for success. (By the way, I love Sara. Gosh, she is such a nerd. A delightful nerd. This being prompted by her girl power speech to the Delilah girls.)  So, yeah this spells the end for the Fannins. Kind of sad to see them go, because I’ve been following them for years on YouTube, but their swan song, with the boys trampling all over every note, proved that this stage is not as comfortable for them as their living room.

Vocal Point

Part 2

Urban Method – “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem ft. Rihanna

I should like Urban Method more than I do. What they got right: The rapping and the poignancy. They didn’t try to sell “Love the Way You Lie” as anything but what it is: a tragedy. Cool… But… I agree with Shawn that this barely sounded like acapella and it sounded more like a track. It just wasn’t a track I particularly like too much. Without the bass shaking me in the studio like it shook Ben, the song felt… empty. The lead vocal (the Rihanna part) didn’t carry as well as the rapping because, while this group has the “novelty” part of backing up a rapper down pretty well, I don’t feel like they’re technically accounting for backing up a singer. That part was weak, and since, all the bells and whistles of arranging went into make this sound as unadorned and “studio-like” as possible, I was left feeling cold. Me, I like adorned. I like a more acoustic, different take on a song like this. And Urban Method didn’t sound like that. They sounded like a sound panel in a producer’s studio… which is kind of what they are.

The Cat’s Pajamas – “Some Kind of Wonderful” by Soul Brothers 6… and Grand Funk Railroad?

There’s an immediate unfortunate association that comes with these guys’ video, where they sing golden oldies to golden oldies in what is – no offense – a lounge act. A cruise ship act. Had we not seen that, I probably would have thought these guys were cool throwbacks who can perform “Some Kind of Wonderful” exuberantly and smile and dance. But now I know that’s all they do. And it makes me think – cheesy. And sparkly. And old. How different are these guys, really, from last year’s five person dude group, Street Corner Symphony? I don’t know. Maybe not that different at all. But Street Corner seemed legit, like they actually walked over from a bar and started putting something ear-opening and new together on the world’s coolest street corner. The Cat’s Pajamas sound… like a bunch of guys sitting around a baby grand that would use the phrase “cat’s pajamas” to describe things they found spiffy. They have the technical chops for sure (though boy, I’d love to hear a dynamic or tempo change). But in the meantime, no one’s going to be able to get that picture out of their head of the guys schmoozing it up with senior citizens in Branson, Missouri. It makes them feel like a relic before a note comes out of their mouth – and not a cool relic like last season’s Jerry Lawson. The judges said they wanted more artistry and emotion from these guys. I think what they meant is this – no one likes a lounge lizard.

Kinfolk 9 – “Secrets” by OneRepublic

Moi (I think that’s how it’s spelled?) is the first clear “front-man” this competition has given us. A great front-man gets you a long way on this show. Three of the four finalists last year got to the finals on the strength of their lead soloist and the group’s ability to support the emotion coming from that singer. This is where Kinfolk seems to lack. More
so even then the Fannins, this group seems ill-fitted for this competition, because without Moi, they would so easily fade into the pack. They have “the story” that’s supposed to make me feel for them, and it does, but they don’t seem to have the musical character that other groups here do. Which means they rest on the charisma of Moi. Can he alone hold them up?

Vocal Point – “Jump Jive and Wail” by The Brian Setzer Orchestra

Vocal Point gave a very strong performance, and had the best little snippets of songs in their clip (“Footloose” and “It Had Better Be Tonight,” sounding crisp and delightful). I’m not sure if they’re better than the Yellowjackets, or even Season 1’s Beezelbubs, but I am certain that I like these guys better than last season’s goofy guys, “On the Rocks.” All the same, while al-guy college a capella set fares really well on this show, they never seem to be able to innovate enough to actually take it all, though they keep coming close on charisma alone. I don’t see this group being any different. I have no real qualms with Vocal Point, but I have no real attachment to them yet either. All the same, their strong performance means that Kinfolk 9 and The Cat’s Pajamas are on the bubble. Kinfolk is technically weaker, but Cat’s Pajamas, despite being flawless, seem like robots, and this
show does not like robots.

And the doo-wop robots do indeed head home. It may seem strange because, well, Kinfolk seems to need so much work, and Cat’s Pajamas is already there, but… they’re already there. Where else can they go? I’ll never know unless I go to Branson, I guess…

In Conclusion

The second half was much weaker than the first on this episode, which is strange as far as pacing goes, but, in all fairness, the Fannins would have been eliminated in either bracket. I am extremely excited that there are still eight groups left to discover. It doesn’t appear, thankfully, that the producer’s brought along a bunch of dead weight to get the show up to sixteen groups, which shows that there is a lot of relatively untapped a capella potential out there, and that this show has long legs.

My rankings of the surviving groups from Week 1:

1)  Afroblue: They have the goods, and are my early favorites to take it all. (Barring something really awesome from the back eight, which, I mean, I hope…)

2)  Delilah: A huge surprise! They gave the night’s best performance by a long shot, practically scorching my eyebrows off.

3)  The Yellowjackets: I’m giving them the edge over Vocal Point for now. The question is: can either group overcome the goofy guy group curse? They make it far, but they never win…

4)  Vocal Point: These guys have the goods, but I think The Yellowjackets outlast them by a week or two.

5)  Urban Method: I know they can rap. Other groups have rapped. Can they sing? I know they can, but they better show us.

6)  Kinfolk 9: Already, they’ve dug themselves quite a hole. Their only hope is some underdog magic.

As good as the groups were, the judges were better. Sara appears to have been the missing puzzle piece for this show. Whereas Nicole seemed lost in the world of a capella, with everything she said sounding fake, Sara is like a capella’s perfect pixie ambassador – awkward, goofy, self-effacing, yet beautiful, talented and charming, she falls perfectly between Shawn and Ben. She judges based on the packages a bit too much, but she, like her fellow judges, offers precise and constructive criticism and feedback as well – and when she does it, she does it with a charming, doe-eyed enthusiasm mixed with a sharp intelligence. For once on a reality show, I want to hear every word every judge has to say! Nick was even suitably restrained and used almost no music puns while hosting this affair. Altogether, a perfect night of acapella, I’d have to say! ‘Til next week, then?

They're Happy The Sing-Off's Back

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