“The Sing-Off” Season 3, Episode 4 Recap: I Want You Back

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Once again, I was unable to watch the show live this week, but watched it this morning (thanks again, Hulu!). Last week I was able to survive until Tuesday morning spoiler-free, but unfortunately last night, I was tipped off to the result of Monday night’s elimination not once, but twice. (I ‘like’ the eliminated group on Facebook, plus someone had made a certain spoiler-y search that led them to one of my posts, and I was checking my blog stats last night.) You can probably guess which group went home by now, but if you’re reading this, you either already know who it was, don’t care who it was, or are a spambot, so you have no capacity to feel anything about who it was, so there we go. I am in a (figurative) period of mourning right now, by the way. (If I happen to collapse in sorrow any time during this recap, feel free to revive me with the reminder that Afro-Blue, Vocal Point, Delilah, and a few more promising groups are still in the running. Or with Street Corner Symphony’s new album, which it turns out they’ve actually already made. Score!) Anyhow, since there were 12 performances once again on Monday night, I better get cracking. After a surprisingly good group rendition of “The Rhythm of Love” (although I like the song, I wasn’t expecting much out of the performance, but it definitely won me over), we started off the current hits round with…

  • The Deltones (performing “The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga): The Deltones continued to impress me last night with this opening performance. The arrangement was nice and replicated the synthesizer-driven vibe of Gaga’s original pretty nicely, and the solo was delivered exceptionally well (and when the soloist was completely sick, to boot…that takes major guts). Simply put, they nailed it. In retrospect, however, the Deltones may have a trend of delivering performances that are solid and very enjoyable, but in the long run, not the most memorable. They’re definitely outstanding…but can they keep up with the other groups when the brackets merge next week? It’ll be interesting to see.
  • Pentatonix (performing “Your Love Is My Drug” by Ke$ha): (So it may have taken me about 5 tries to get Ke$ha’s name right. Although I despise her music, it’s kind of fun trying to type her dollar sign-encrusted moniker. :)) Just like last week where I finally caught on to Urban Method, I think I might have jumped (very gingerly, mind you) onto the Pentatonix train, and this performance was a key factor in that. They turned an unbearably lightweight pop song into something nuanced and fascinating, full of energy, some great harmonies, and a lot of daring reinvention. It all just worked…and then when they introduced some studio-esque effects in the latter part of the song…I. Was. Floored. I may still be hung up on the male lead singer (his mannerisms tend to bug me), and they’re not my absolute favorite group by any means, but I’m excited to see what Pentatonix comes up with in the weeks ahead, and their innovative, stylized approach to their arrangements might be just what the doctor ordered.
  • The Collective (performing “Rocketeer” by Far East Movement): I’ve never heard this song before, to be honest, so I may be looking at this performance from a different viewpoint than those who have. That said, I really enjoyed it, and it was a clear step up for The Collective from last week’s fine, but somewhat uneven take on “Rolling In The Deep.” Their blend was improved, the arrangement was more ear-catching, and they seemed much more cohesive as a group. Rachael was also a stellar soloist (and like the soloist for The Deltones, was sick, this time with laryngitis…my mind, it boggles at how well she was able to pull it off in that condition), and kept the song jamming. It was a nice progression for the Collective, and proof that they just may have what it takes to go far in this competition.
  • North Shore (performing “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars): Much like the conceptually similar group Jerry Lawson and the Talk of the Town last season, I’m beginning to get a “they’re great! but can they win?” feeling about North Shore. They’re clearly old pros, and they’re a joy to watch and to hear. But can they compete against all these young, innovative groups? And would a recording contract on a national stage be the best fit for them? These are questions that are going to keep nagging me, and while I really love North Shore’s old-school approach, it may end up hurting them in the long run. Anyways, these 5 Boston guys did a fine job with this Bruno Mars song, complete with some cheeky choreography and a winning solo. It was definitely a treat.
  • Dartmouth Aires (performing “Animal” by Neon Trees): Sigh. That’s all I have to say. OK, not really…I have a bit more to say than that…but an exasperated sigh would cover my feelings about the Aires quite nicely. They’re just not grabbing me. It is possible for me to enjoy a college group (before you shout that apparently it’s only possible if they’re from the school I go to, as was/is the case with Noteworthy and Vocal Point, I did like On The Rocks last season, though I felt they stayed an episode or so too long), but the Dartmouth Aires simply isn’t that college group. Their rehearsal segments…and their performances for that matter…always make it seem like they’re trying too hard to be ‘goofy,’ but don’t have the natural charm to hide that excessive effort. The choreography they use is somewhat fun at times, but in other places it just gets plain awkward. Their sound is a bit disjointed, probably due to the large numbers. It doesn’t seem like they’ve paid enough attention to their blend, and while it’s not horrible by any means, it could be much cleaner, and that would add to the overall quality of the performance. Sure, the judges may say they’re fun and energetic…but fun and energy only carry you so far (especially when the ‘fun’ and ‘energy’ isn’t quite there for some people). Musical artistry needs to come along with it too, and the Dartmouth Aires simply don’t have that at present.
  • Sonos (performing “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay): I think that “Viva la Vida” is cursed on “The Sing-Off.” (If you couldn’t tell who got eliminated by my comments at the beginning, you can probably tell by now…sniffle.) Noteworthy got bumped off the night they sang it in Season 1, and, well, you saw what happened Monday night for Sonos. (More on that later, if I have the strength.) I thought this was a great, intriguing take on Coldplay’s massive hit, full of deliciously intricate harmonies and some nice surprises. Ben’s beatboxing, as was the case last time Sonos performed, really stood out for me…he was churning out cool effects and tricks like they were going out of style, and at one point he did this really cool heartbeat-type thing that I really loved. Chris was excellent on the solo, and I thought the trio of girls backing him (including one of them on bass) held up very well. I do get the judges’ sentiments in that the group would do better with another male singer (I realized last week that they actually had one, but he left Sonos about a year ago) to round out their sound, but what they have right now is excellent, and I think they do more than just ‘get by.’ They push new boundaries and open new doors for the a cappella world.

Now, on to the 60s classics round (how funny was it that Nick plugged “The Playboy Club” a week after it was axed by NBC? This is what happens when you tape in late summer and don’t take into account that new NBC shows are often doomed):

  • Pentatonix (performing “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin): On paper, putting a rock classic to an a cappella reggae-driven beat seems ridiculous. Even thinking about Pentatonix’s take on this Joplin chestnut now, it seems ridiculous. But somehow, they pulled it off…their arrangement was peppy and effective, but they made sure not to let the song veer into parody or get too sweet. It was a daring choice, and I think it paid off, though it didn’t hit me as hard as “Your Love Is My Drug” did. (I never thought I would ever be typing that last phrase…the things “The Sing-Off” makes me do.)
  • The Deltones (performing “You Can’t Hurry Love” by the Supremes): A tiny bit seemed like it was missing from this performance…the soloist didn’t quite sell it all the way, and the arrangement wasn’t as inventive as I would have liked…but I still thought the Deltones did a great job here. It’s a song you can’t really go wrong with in an a cappella setting when you play your cards right, and the group certainly didn’t get it wrong here.
  • North Shore (performing “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers): I agreed with the judges that North Shore showed a few pitch problems here and there (for pretty much the first time this competition, to boot), and I also agreed with them that those issues didn’t really get in the way of a fine performance. If I had any noticeable problem with this, it would be that the group stuck to the original to a T, which was great because the original is a classic for a reason…but it made the arrangement feel kind of static. It kept it from moving to “very good” to “great” at a few moments, and that’s a shame for a group as talented as North Shore is.
  • The Collective (performing “Hold On, I’m Comin'” by Sam & Dave): This is a very repetitive song, so I wasn’t sure if the Collective could make it a bit more interesting, but then again Urban Method rocked it with the also very redundant “Dance To The Music,” so I saw as it as quite possible for the group to bring some new life to the song in an a cappella setting. They did…and they didn’t. I didn’t think the first half of the performance was as tentative as the judges did, but I do agree that they really kicked it off in the latter half. It was almost as if someone flicked a switch and out came all the Collective’s pent-up energy, all at once. They were throwing all kinds of stuff at us (an impressive out-of-nowhere falsetto howl, lots of sound and lots of riffing), and surprisingly, it was working. If they can harness the pure craziness they unleashed at the end of this song into future performances…I’m definitely all ears.
  • Sonos (performing “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5): I was very familiar with this particular arrangement of the song already, as it’s a prominent feature of Sonos’ debut album. I have to admit it didn’t come off as well on stage as it did on recording (the fact that they’re one member short can’t help matters), and the cuts they had to make to trim it down to two minutes were brutal on the slow, deliciously deliberate build that their take on the song requires. That aside, I think they did a beautiful job turning this song on its ear, and I thought the judges were off the mark by saying it was too bold and too much of a change-up. Would it have been fun to hear a more straightforward take on the song? Sure it would have. But I don’t think Sonos’ radical reharmonization of the tune hurt it in any way. On the contrary, it showcased an entire different aspect of the song (its heartbreak and longing), and brought out some really intriguing elements that never would have come to light had they gone more traditional. There were pitch problems, sure, and the performance didn’t quite shake out the way it should have, but I thought Sonos did a terrific job turning this Jackson 5 classic on its ear, and it’s a disappointment that the judges didn’t feel the same way.
  • Dartmouth Aires (performing “Pinball Wizard” by…who? The Who, that’s who): Let’s get the positives out of the way first. The choreography was impressive. (That pinball-machine effect they did in the middle was, I have to admit, a very cool effect.) The energy was there and consistent. The solo wasn’t half-bad. Now, my nitpicking…the blend still wasn’t cohesive. The sound felt disorganized. Once again, it coasted more on pretentious ‘goofiness’ than actual, natural, easygoing charm. You know the drill…it just didn’t connect with me. It was good, but nowhere, nowhere near great. And that is going to be a major problem for the Aires going forward, especially next week when they play with the big boys (and girls) and the separate brackets are no more.
  • By now, you’ve deduced who went home, whether by watching the show, reading other articles scattered across the Internet, or seeing my many lamentations during this recap that…Sonos was eliminated. This I already knew while watching this morning, but that didn’t make things any less difficult to swallow. They’re blazing new trails in a cappella music, I think, and I know they can still do so even outside “The Sing-Off” venue. I saw an Internet comment today (from a Sonos fan) to the effect that this might have not been the best outlet for them. Although I absolutely loved seeing them perform on the show, I kind of have to agree. They can now go back to their pioneering use of effects pedals (which, it should be clearly noted, are NOT used to hide any pitch issues or blend problems, as effects pedals would simply maximize those, but are instead used to augment their sound, explore new sonic palettes, and overall make each of their performances strikingly unique and innovative), and hopefully they have the resources in the future to keep making outstanding records. I’ll be there to buy each and every one of them.
  • One more thing…there’s been a lot of talk that Shawn Stockman was reacting in pain to Sonos’ swan song of “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday,” a Boyz II Men staple. I didn’t know until afterwards that it was a song by his group, so out of context it looked like he was emotional in some way…like sad to see Sonos go. Looking back at his reaction in context, it seems to be a combination of him being amused and a bit surprised to hear that they used a Boyz II Men song, with maybe a tiny undercurrent of being disappointed that Sonos was leaving. (And OK, I guess he may have thought they were a little pitchy. But seriously, do you think he’d really cringe at any group’s farewell performance? He’s classier than that, I think.)

So I was actually mistaken last week, and next episode we see all 10 remaining groups come together. In another stab-in-the-dark guess at how the format plays out the next little while, I’m thinking that they’ll eliminate 2 groups per week for at least the next 2 or 3 weeks, since they’re due to finish airing at the end of November. We’ll see if that actually occurs. For now, a farewell to you, until I hopefully unleash a horde of long-gestating non-“Sing-Off” posts and/or return with next week’s recap, and as always, a poll. Thanks for reading!

 

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