Tuesday, December 17, 2013

WHOSE GENERATION? Saray is back with some more thoughts on Night 4 of The Sing Off.
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It’s the fourth night of our holiday edition of The Sing Off.  We open with “Talkin’ Bout My Generation” for the group number.  Does anyone want to guess which group is dressed in sparkly short body-con dresses?  No?  Only me throwing shoes at the television?  OK.  The groups transition into “We Will Rock You” and then to...Imagine Dragons “It’s Time,” which is when I officially declared confusion on this medley.
Continuing from last week’s only-four-groups show, tonight we have the other four remaining groups: Home Free, VoicePlay, Element, and Vocal Rush.  It’s probably bad that from the top of the show, I can pick who is going to go home from that group (Element.)  Ben is giving the groups their assignment, which I still don’t understand.  Does it have to be something from the generation of the group members themselves?  Any generation?  Ben’s generation?  This theme is rather...broad.  Ben thinks that there’s something holding back each of these groups, and he counsels them to let that thing go.

First to sing tonight is Home Free.  They’ll be singing “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash.  Ben wants them to be vulnerable in order to reach and move people.  Home Free tonight is slowing the song down at the beginning.  Does slow = vulnerable?  They then rock the beat up to normal.  Tim, the bass, is singing the verse solo tonight and surprises the judges by quickly jumping into falsetto.  He pulls out a low F# at the end and my jaw dropped.  (That is really, really, really low.)  In the judging, Ben likens Tim to a walking refrigerator, which is ridiculous, but also hilarious.  Jewel liked that the group brought out the vulnerability that June Carter wrote into the song.  Unfortunately, she pronounces the word “octaves” strangely and I go back to being annoyed with her.  Shawn liked the reggae dance hall beat that Adam (the VP) brought in.

Quick note: the vocal bumps and intro/outro music you hear coming in and out of commercial is all music from The House Jacks, the a cappella group of TSO producer Deke Sharon.  If you like it, you should download some of their stuff.  Might I suggest you start with “Red Dress”?  It’s hot.

VoicePlay will be up next, singing “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt.  This is actually one of my favorite songs ever.  The group talks about how they are not ballad singers normally, and Ben coaches them to focus on the story.  Phenomenal harmonies on the “it looks as though you’re letting go” line between Honey and the tenor.  Honey is killing the solo, and the group has some really interesting modulations in the bridge that really drive home the emotion.  I do not understand why each member of the band is wearing 42 different fabric patterns, though.  They literally look like they came out of the rejected costumes for the orphans from Annie. Despite my beef with wardrobe, I loved this performance.  So did the judges.

Oh great, it’s yelling at sparkly dresses time!  Element’s package is about them “running and working out and doing cardio” and I am literally screaming.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!  I actually have never been more angry at TSO than I am right now.  I wanted to make a point, sometime tonight, to address how great I think it is that TSO includes more women of all different shapes, sizes and colors this year than they have in any previous season.  But now I am just livid at them.  So anyway, Element will be signing “You Keep Me Hanging On” by the Supremes.  Ben advises them to create a clear space for the soloist so that she doesn’t get overshadowed by the background.  Rachel’s VP beat is really great tonight but the first solo is nasal.  There are tuning problems towards the end and this just isn’t doing it for me.  Jewel points out first that they look beautiful and I should just give up now.  She goes on to discuss how Diana Ross doubled the lead vocal on the original but Element ended up doubling the harmonies and it was effective.  Shawn also points out that they look lovely.  I’m dying over here.  A great step to making me less mad about the state of all-female a cappella on TSO would be to either a) stop the judges from first mentioning how the all-female group looks before getting to substantive musical comments, or b) get the judges to mention how beautiful every group looks first. Seriously, if later in the season someone says "Home Free, you guys just look beautiful tonight" and Home Free swishes around their hair or something I would be a lot happier than I am now.

Finally tonight is Vocal Rush, still my favorite group in this show.  Help me, Vocal Rush, you’re my only hope! They’ll be performing “Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler and they say it’ll be challenging because they weren’t born when the song came out.  Hey, I thought the theme for tonight was “MY” generation?  Sarah is on opening solo again, yay.  I already feel better.  Shawn is doing some serious head-bopping.  It was another strong performance from the group.  Ben points out the strong work on bass and VP.  Shawn likes that they give 100% of themselves to a performance.  He thinks that something happened during the double chorus that knocked them off a bit, but they got back on.  Jewel loved the rap.  But then she points out that despite “so many female voices” they sound “so warm and so rich.”  This is exactly the crap that I hate, and the stereotype against women in a cappella that is untrue.  I thought we’d all moved past this during Pitch Perfect?

Time for deliberation.  The two groups who will be competing in the Ultimate Sing-Off tight are Element and Vocal Rush.  This is completely unsurprising based on the judging.  The two groups will trade off on “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child.  Vocal Rush just sounds infinitely more interesting.  Why are the Element soloists high-pitched talking through half of this song?  They are performing but not singing.  Vocal Rush is absolutely bringing the attitude of this song in a way that I find more effective.

I think the decision is clear, and so do the judges: Element will be going home.  Goodbye sparkly dresses!  I hope I never see you ever again!  TSO is back on Wednesday at 8pm.  Try not to get confused by the new time.


  1. Pitch Perfect does suggest that crucial to the Bellas' win is not just Beca's arrangements/mashups, but Chloe's surgery for her nodes which enables her to hit the low notes and fill out the arrangements.

  2. I feel like I'm in the minority, but I really didn't care for VoicePlay's version of Don't Speak. To me, felt messy, but maybe they're just not my style. Either way, felt that Vocal Rush shouldn't have been in the bottom.

    Really liking Home Free, personally, but I'm a country fan. Overall, though, I tend to like the less-collegiate sound more, and generally don't prefer the "all female" sound much, so generally OK with the way things went down save for the very appropriately called out mention of the focus on appearance. Though, I'll admit I also dislike constant focus on age, too.

  3. Marsha12:08 AM

    I didn't like Don't Speak either, though I like VoicePlay. I thought they kind of lost it in the middle, and the background didn't provide enough support for the leads.

    Home Free was my pick to win from day 1, and I remain unshaken from that belief. They're just more polished than everyone else, and they have that fabulous bass.

    I agree with you, Sara, on the obviousness of the bottom two and the correctness of the result. This was by far my favorite "Ultimate Sing-Off" - despite all the stupid posing, this did feel more like a vocal battle, and one where, both sides really were bringing it. VocalRush won it in a walk, but it was a whole lot of fun to watch.

    (And I'm very glad you pointed out the two things that annoyed me most - the completely confusing theme and the horrid anti-female comments. Yick.)

  4. Yeah, I know, and that always bothered me. But FYI, Jo in Element has all of those same low notes.

  5. I'm loving the show (and Saray's recaps), but hate how they are shoving all of this into two weeks. It's on FOUR times this week, several times with two hour episodes! It's a lot.

    Top three to me are definitely Vocal Rush, Filharmonics and Home Free. (Voiceplay leaves me cold, and Acoustikats aren't the best college boy group we've seen on this show. Ten could slip in, but I feel like they just haven't jelled as a group yet.) But no one's blowing me away this year like Pentatonix or the Aires did last year. I still remember Pentatonix's "Love Lockdown" and the Aires' "Club Can't Handle Me" and Queen medley.

    And Saray, you're not the only one throwing shoes at the television about short sparkly dresses - or any time Nick says that Element is looking good up there, or Shawn says they're beautiful. So incredibly frustrating. I wish Element had just once gotten to wear something non-sparkly. But then, when I see what they're costuming the other groups in...maybe they were lucky.

  6. Personally, I interpreted the "you look beautiful" remarks as something like Paula Abdul thinking, "I need to say something positive, and the performance sucked so...." I affirmatively disliked Element's singing. And, honestly, I think that the judges' commentary on how the main voices of Vocal Rush are female yet warm, rich, and full is kind of an implicit indictment of a group like Element, that basically put together a lot of voices that were very, very similar, within a very narrow range, without trying to strive for a variety of voices that create fullness. [That said, I do agree that the dresses did them no favors, and made it a lot harder for them to show personality. Not the only factor causing them to fail to show personality, but....]

    I think that Home Free is technically very good, but they leave me cold. I just don't feel any emotion from them. My husband and I were in the camp that liked Voice Play's Don't Speak. And I just think that Vocal Rush is great. My husband was less happy with with Holding Out for a Hero than I was, but we both enjoyed it. And they just wiped the floor with Element during the Ultimate Sing-Off.

  7. Marsha1:21 PM

    Yes, the costumes seem a whole order or magnitude uglier this year, don't they?

    I agree that no one has yet really blown me away. Pentatonix did so from the very beginning last year.

  8. Jenn.1:38 PM

    Isn't Jo essentially doing the bass work? In my mind, the issue is not with the bass or drum work, but with the lack of variety of the people who are singing.

    On a totally different note, I just wanted to say that I've been loving your recaps, Saray, and the link to Wrecking Ball the other day was VERY much appreciated.

  9. Saray1:48 PM

    Yes, she is. And I agree - there's not enough variety in the group itself.

    Thanks for your kind words! It has been super fun to do this, even if it means that it takes me 3 hours to watch a 1 hour TV show. ;)

  10. victoria2:34 PM

    To me the weird thing with that Home Free performance was that they started out trying to strip down the song and get at some of the rawness of it. Which is one smart way to handle a song whose iconic version is uptempo but which definitely does not have party-time lyrics.

    And then they do that weird reggae beat and throw in a couple of real showboat-y moments ("the flames went higher," that bass note at the end.) I have no problem when those decisions in a vacuum but they struck me as craven artistically given the way they started an arrangement. "Look, have you ever noticed that this song is poignant? We have. Listen to the poignancy! Now it is time to line dance!"

  11. victoria2:36 PM

    I liked Pentatonix from the beginning, but the first performance of theirs that really made me think, "Wow, this is a group that can and maybe should win," was "Video Killed the Radio Star" -- their fourth performance. It gives me hope that someone might break out with something great even at this point in the season...

  12. Tara Kennedy4:53 PM

    I originally interpreted the mention of Vocal Rush's mostly female-ness as a counterpoint, sort of a see, we're not saying mostly female groups can't sound great, but it is getting tired. I'm enjoying the extra judges commentary but in general find the "this week in rehearsal" bits annoying even though I understand they are a staple of such shows.
    And I agree with Jenn, I appreciate Home Free's technical proficiency and the F# but, eh.

  13. Emily9:54 AM

    I agree, Craig. I was surprised that Vocal Rush was in the bottom two.