14th Dec2012

West Week Ever – 12/14/12

by Will

oie_922142seDasWF9

So, I can’t say this has truly been the WEST week ever. Last week was good, so I guess I had this coming. I’m just not “feeling” the internet right now. Between all the Gail Simone bullshit, and the endless speculation over things that are 1-2 years away, it just gets tiring. Plus, I’m slipping into my whole “Why do I do this?” thing again. I mean, seriously, I could switch to only doing Thrift Justice posts, and I’d probably be more popular. We don’t do this for “fame”, but I kinda wish I got more out of it. I’m not entirely sure what I want, but this ain’t it. I don’t get invited  to the reindeer games of the blogging world. Starting to think I need a team or an umbrella under which to do things. Just sorta tired of feeling like it’s Me Against the Net, in a battle that only I’m aware of. Anyway, the show must go on, and all that jazz!

 

Here’s something cool I found the other day:

Apparently, Pentatonix won the 3rd season of The Sing Off. I totally forgot there was a 3rd season. Anyway, that was pretty cool. Nice to see they pulled it off. Back in college, there was a 6-person coed group called RL Six (say it fast, and you’ll get the “joke”), and the rest of us swore that you couldn’t get a great sound from just 6 people. If you had 6 guys, sure. 6 girls, maybe. But a 6-person coed group would be missing too many voice parts. Pentatonix pull it off with 5, though the chick is probably the weakest member.

pro2

Any of you kids of the 80s/90s remember ProStars? It aired on NBC Saturday mornings for a season, and it featured Wayne Gretzky, Bo Jackson, and Michael Jordan as a team of heroes who always helped kids who were in trouble. Lately, I’ve been watching it on THIS is For Kids (THIS is a free digital subchannel that probably hangs out near whatever channel is The CW for you), and it’s a shame it didn’t last longer so we’d just see the wheels fall off that concept. I mean, from what we now know about Jordan, he was way too much of an asshole to be a part of such an enterprise. Seriously, the show includes pretaped vignettes where Bo or Wayne describe the day’s episode. There’s pretaped stock footage of Jordan, but he’s usually shooting a basketball or saying something like “Stay In School”. He couldn’t even be bothered to record pertinent interstitials! I’d love a followup special, as Bo currently Knows Anonymity, Gretzky’s hot daughter is more famous than he is, and Jordan would’ve lost all of the ProStars tech to pay off gambling debts. I’m not really a sports guy, and I already asked this on Twitter, but who would be on a present-day ProStars team?

ritter

Someone on Twitter recently said that, in Pokemon terms, Krysten Ritter was the evolved form of Zooey Deschanel. I kinda agree, but I think there’s more to it than that. Just like Pichu evolves into Pikachu who evolves into Raichu, Zooey evolves into Krysten, who then evolves into Lizzy Caplan. If you’re curious as to why, ask me in the comments…

zooeycaplan

 

OK, so WordPress is being all weird, so I’ll wrap things now. Before I go, don’t forget to enter Geeks For Tots!

Also, check out this week’s posts:

Can We Talk About Gail For A Minute?

Thrift Justice – All Filler, No Thriller

Thrift Justice – We’ll Never Know What Might’ve Been

And if you wanna give me some money, or buy holiday gifts for the geeks in your life, visit Will’s World of Wonder!

29th Apr2011

Glee: The Music Presents The Warblers

by Will

 

I haven’t really discussed Glee much on this site. I actually wrote a pretty scathing review of the “sneak preview” that Fox aired back in ’09, but it’s still sitting in draft form. Basically, I didn’t think the show would last, but I wanted to give it a chance to prove itself. After a bit, I became happy with myself for not publishing that post, as I fell in love with the show.

Season 1 of Glee was this musical quirk fest that shouldn’t exist, yet somehow became popular – kinda like Lady Gaga. You’d ask anyone why they liked it, and you’d get the Apple Jacks response: “I dunno. I just do.” Glee launched a bit slowly, but then exploded after winter hiatus during its first season. Of course, the candle that burns brightest burns fastest. Season 2 started off contrived, and just continued to go downhill. In conversations I’ve had with folks, I’ve pointed out that I was driven away by how preachy the character of Kurt had become. If you want to know more about that viewpoint, we can handle that in another post. Mainly, I felt that few of the characters were likable, and it was no longer worth tuning in just to hear the gold that comes from Brittany and Santana’s mouths – especially when those lines will just end up on twitter.

My biggest problem with the second season, however, is the role that the music now fulfills: in the first season, the plot dictated the song choices, but now it’s the other way around, as the song choices have begun to dictate the plot. It was already illogical that these kids would break out in song this much, but now it’s harder to believe that they all suffered Britney Spears-centric hallucinations from a visit to the dentist. These are Sitcom Season 6 plotlines, when the cast is just trying to burn off some stories to add to the syndication count. Glee now feels like an odd combination of lazy/forced, as you can tell that a lot of work went into the musical aspect, but they’re just so lazy in setting up a *reason* for said music. So, I gave up on the show about 6 episodes into the season. However, one good thing did come from this season: The Warblers.

I dropped out of Glee just as The Warblers were introduced, so I don’t know the full story there (nor do I care enough to wiki it). I know Kurt was thinking of transferring to Dalton Academy, and his new school would feature this A-MAH-zing all-male group called The Warblers. While New Directions music contained instrumentation, The Warblers were full-on a cappella, bringing a new sound to the show while also showing people that not all show choirs are a cappella (and vice versa).

Once I gave up the show, I continued downloading the songs, as I still liked the music – especially the songs that clearly had unique arrangements and weren’t just karaoke versions of Top 40 hits. The tracks that never failed to impress me all came from The Warblers. Not only do they tackle some pretty intricate arrangements, but they also have a sound remiscent of late 90s collegiate a cappella, which was a time before technology came to dominate those recordings. Currently, as technology has become cheaper, a cappella recordings have started abusing autotune as much as Top 40 radio.

The main force behind The Warblers’ sound would be the Tufts Beelzebubs, an all-male collegiate a cappella group from Tufts University. The Bubs dominated a cappella during the late 90s/early ’00s with a clean blend that was achieved through talent and effective mixing, but didn’t overuse unnecessary effects. The current Bubs actually contribute the vocals for The Warblers, and it’s nice to hear that the group is still amazing at what they do. When you meet someone on the street and tell them you sang a cappella, they always ask “Oh, like Rockapella?”. Yeah, sure, but what we really wanted to be were The Bubs, The Derbies, The Crosbies or The Dukesmen. So, you could say I’m a fan.

I finally got around to listening to Glee: The Music Presents The Warblers, which collects the Warbler songs that have been featured on the show. I had heard tracks here and there, but after listening to them altogether, I feel that this is once of the best a cappella albums I’ve heard in QUITE some time. From start to finish, from song selection to blend, this is a nearly flawless collection. Plus, it’s nice that Chris Colfer has a platform where his voice can finally shine. He has that distinctive voice where, in an a choral setting, it would be a bitch to get him to blend, but the trade-off would be that he’s a dynamic soloist.

There are some real standout tracks on this collection. A cappella groups have done a good job reinterpreting Train songs, and that’s true here as they guys turn in a great arrangement of “Hey, Soul Sister.”You can also hear the fun in their voices in their cover of “Animal” by Neon Trees. Out of nowhere, they blow the doors off “When I Get You Alone”, originally performed by a “Robin-less” Thicke. Finally, I found myself really enjoying a simple, yet still moving, rendition of Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know”. If there’s one track that might go into the “miss” category, I’d have to say it’s their version of “Blackbird”. It’s not bad, per se, but it lacked the dynamics of the other arrangements. Other than that, it’s a solid collection.

If you went to a school that didn’t dabble in a cappella, or if you just want to hear what some consider to be the gold standard of collegiate a cappella, you can’t go wrong with Glee: The Music Presents The Warblers. I consider this a nice little “Bon Voyage To Glee” present for me. I came for the Lea Michele, but I left with the Darren Criss. Y’all let me know if they ever make a Warblers spinoff show.

17th Sep2010

Origin: The Final Frontier

by Will

By this point, we’ve covered how I found comics, how I came to love comics, as well as the memories and experience they provided. Back in Origin Zeo, I mentioned the time I discovered the sense of community that surrounds comic books. That might sound lame to some, but it is almost like a family in itself. We rarely agree on anything, but we’ll defend the medium to the bitter end. For me, comics have been an important means of social outreach. I’m a bit introverted, though you might not think so, what with me having a blog named after myself and all. I’m actually pretty shy, so I don’t just put myself out there to make friends. I will say, however, that most of my enduring friendships have been the result of my love of comics.

When I was in middle school, I attended a school for 6 weeks before we all realized that it wasn’t “the right fit”. I ended up enrolling in public school (for the first time, mind you), 6 weeks into the semester. It was hard enough being the new kid, but it was even harder being the late new kid. As dorky as I was, I didn’t get beaten up or anything, but I can’t say I had any friends, either. That all changed when I noticed a kid from my church, and we found ourselves talking about X-Men and Power Rangers. That kid was Brett King, and that conversation led to 10 years where we dissected X-Men developments, and debated new Zord combinations. We traded Marvel Masterpieces, created our own battles with our action figures, and even attended Professor Xavier’s funeral together (it was an event sponsored by a local mall). Up through college, he was truly my best friend, and it was all built on the foundation of a shared love of comics. I don’t know how I would’ve survived that period without him.

Once I got to college, I met James Lamb. To call him “interesting” or “complex” wouldn’t even come close to describing the man, as he’s an enigma. Passionately political one minute, and hardcore Marvel fanboy the next.  He’s gonna kill me for this, but he’s basically an amalgam of Malcolm X and Stan Lee (“Excelsior, crackers!”). I always tell people that I majored in “A Cappella”, as that was my primary focus while in school. Sad, but true. When I wasn’t singing, however, I was with James, discussing the nuances of “Hush” and “The Age of Apocalypse”. Once we both graduated, and found that we weren’t the Captains of Industry that the world expected us to be, we had MANY 4 AM conversations where the topics would range from Jason Todd to Jim Crow. Those conversations kept me sane in my years as a “boomerang kid”, back living in the room in which I’d grown up.

Eventually, I found myself actually living the dream, when I was hired by Diamond Comic Distributors as a Purchasing Brand Manager. Basically, we created Previews – the catalog that all comic shops use to place their orders. My job was to gather information for a particular part of the catalog, while also seeking out new “small press” creators who might have projects that they’d like to have promoted to retailers.

Diamond was a great opportunity, as it allowed me to learn the other side of comics. Up to this point, I had simply been a reader/fan/collector, but now I was working alongside creators/publishers/newcomers. I had some great experiences, like hanging out with a former Batman editor, being starstruck at SDCC, and even being drawn into a comic. I felt honored by the opportunity, but I also met some great people from that job.  Jim Kuhoric: all-around good guy/comic creator (and greatest boss). Steve Leaf: the fanboy I’d like to be when I grow up. Jay Spence: the filmmaker who’s the gonna be the next Kevin Smith. Then, there’s one fellow who’s gonna need his own paragraph.

When I first met Keith Davidsen, I didn’t quite know what to make of him. He seemed to be vying for the “class clown” position, which made me a bit competitive, as that’s the slot I like to have. There was no rivalry, however, as we ended up as a pretty good duo. I can’t even remember our first “adventure”, as we basically lived at Diamond. We’ve had craziness from San Diego to Miami, but it’s all based on a shared love of comics. Nobody loves 90s comic gimmicks like this guy. Rob Liefeld, Ghost Rider, X-Force – they were all created for Keith Davidsen. Since these were prevalent when I was getting into comics, it’s almost like we grew up in the same town, but went to different schools. For the better part of 5 years, he has been one of my best friends, and that’s all traced back to comics.

After comics, I worked at one of the (allegedly) shittiest companies ever, where we were all basically telemarketers. Under the guise of “research associate”, I dealt with a lot of people who begged me to stop harassing them. My God, did I hate that place! Anyway, I had one real friend there, and wouldn’t you know, he was a comic fan: Jason Larbi. While this analogy might offend an actual veteran, working at that place was akin to being in battle, and Jason was right there in the trenches with me. Whether we were discussing “Old Man Logan”, or he was trying to make me believe he had found a copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 in his alley, he was the only thing that got me through the day. That was also the saddest part about leaving that place: I got discharged on Section 8, while he’s still in the fight.

I’d also can’t forget about Toys “R” Us. While I’ve written about it quite a bit, I worked at that place for 10 years. My first store was full of characters, but it wasn’t until I got to the Columbia store that I actually made friends. Once that happened, it didn’t even feel like “work”. Sure, it got rough during summer and right before Christmas, but most of the time it was just like hanging out at a friend’s house – except you wore a uniform, there were shelves, and strangers were constantly going in and out of the place. Anyway, I looked forward to going, and discussing Batman Begins and Iron Man with Amy, “Special Forces”, Patty, and the late, great Lenny. I really should have quit that place years before I did, but I kept going back for the camaraderie and the geeky atmosphere. It was my Geek Barbershop.

At the end of the day, what I’ve been trying to say here is that comics have been my gateway for the past 18 years. Whether as a form of entertainment, or as a source for conversation fodder, I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have them in my life. Some people might think it’s sad, but everybody’s got something. I just wanted to let you guys in on what comics have meant, specifically, to me. They started out as just “something to read”, but later turned into an instrument in the creation of a make-believe family, which eventually gave way to be replaced by a surrogate, comic reading family. We get a bad rap as anti-social nerdlings, but I think that’s incorrect. Comic fans are some of the most social people I’ve ever encountered. In some cases, they might even be too social. That said, there is an almost overwhelming sense of community that surrounds comics, and I think that’s a big part of their charm. Just like you can strike up a conversation with the guy wearing the McNabb jersey, I can do that with someone I see reading DMZ. For example, I recently started a job at a school, and one of the principals is a comic fan. We often have conversations about Wolverine or Walking Dead. Just another example of how pervasive the community can be.

This is the first time I’ve ever taken a look back over the course of my comic fandom. It was certainly more emotional than I ever thought it would be, but it included some stories that I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to tell. Taking it all in, it’s clear that comics have been very influential in my life, and I can’t wait to see where they take me next. Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

07th Jan2010

The Sing-Off: The Rebuttal

by Will

“Your comments are lame and sick – get a life. It is clear you have a bias and know nothing about music.”

The Sing-Off: The Rebuttal

Normally, my blog quotes are random Easter eggs pertaining to pop culture trivia that I tend to stumble upon. Today, however, we have a real treat: the quote you read above was actually a comment that was left on my post about NBC’s The Sing-Off competition. We don’t get a lot of reader response in these parts, so I only thought it appropriate for me to reach out to my fledgling audience.

Looking back at that post, I wrote it when I was in a bad mood. There’s a heavy dose of snark, which I realize may have distorted my message. That said, I’m not apologizing for it. What that reader failed to realize was that, under all the snark, I actually do address the musicality of the groups, based on years of study and experience.

It doesn’t take my Matlockian detective skills to realize that the comment was left by a SoCal sympathizer. Ya know how I know that? Well, I was meanest to Solo and The SoCals. Since I’m pretty sure that no Solo fan would post such an…articulate response, I’m left to believe that it’s some former VoCal, or just some random person on the CASA boards who took offense. Oh, and they pointed out my “bias”, which was only mentioned in reference to that group (well, coed groups in general).

In any case, I’ve really got nothing else to say here. To my secret admirer, I appreciate the visit, and it’s too bad that you didn’t agree with what I wrote. That said, it doesn’t mean that I was wrong. Because I wasn’t. Come back next time, and ya might like what you see.

22nd Dec2009

The Sing-Off: It Ain’t Your Elitist Grandpa’s A Cappella

by Will

“I’m fighting for this girl on the battlefield of love”

Post number 650. Honestly, I should’ve gotten here about 4 years ago. I mean, I was supposed to write something daily, and I started in 2003. That said, I just don’t know how to stick to personal deadlines. In any case, I have a bit more time on my hands these days, so I’m gonna try to post something – anything, on a more regular schedule, even if it’s dreck. This is a special post not just because it’s number 650, or because it’s a birthday post. No, this post is special because we’re going to talk about something near and dear to me: a cappella, namely The Sing Off.



The Sing Off
was an NBC Special where 6 a cappella groups from across North America competed for a $100,000 Sony recording contract. Hosted by Nick Lachey, the show aired over 4 consecutive nights, with the winner chosen by phone-in votes, and announced the next week. The groups were a mix of collegiate and semi-pro groups, judged by Boyz II Men member Shawn Stockman, Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, and the darling of collegiate music himself, Ben Folds.

When the show was first announced, it was marketed as a mix between Glee and High School Musical. Since those have been pretty big hits in pop culture, it was clever marketing for the show to hitch its wagon to those properties. That said, a cappella is a different sort of beast. It’s not musical theatre and it’s not all song and dance. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to the show, as I wasn’t sure if it would give America a fair representation of “a cappella”.

Plainly stated, “a cappella” means “without accompaniment”. It’s not necessarily a style, as a cappella can be choral, barbershop, coed, single gender, etc. For anyone who just happened to stumble upon this site, I sang a cappella in college, in an all-male group called Last Call (all Cornell a cappella groups have drinking themes – except for the religious ones). We toured the East Coast, we recorded albums, and we won second place in the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella. Bottom line: I’ve done my time in a cappella, so I had a pretty good understanding of the medium. My question, though, was whether Middle America would have a better understanding once The Sing Off completed its run. Ultimately, I hoped that the answer would be “yes”. I understand there are people out there who’ll never “get it”. Hell, my own mom constantly tried to get me to quit because “so, what’s the big deal that you don’t use instruments? You need to study!” I stuck with it because I took it seriously, and I hoped that the show would also take it as seriously.

Let’s take a look at the groups being represented:

Eliminated in Episode 1:

Solo – your standard coed group of inner city kids who banded together because music’s more fun than jail. Considering they said they’d only been together about 13 weeks, they weren’t horrible, but they weren’t good either. As with all of these shows, they had a sob story – a couple of them had been in jail, they all faced inner city hardship, blah, blah. Their video intro even showed them rehearsing on the city bus (I swear, ever since that Coke commercial with Tyrese, people seem to think R&B and public transportation go together like peanut butter and jelly!). The only thing missing was a Michele Pfeiffer cameo. Unfortunately for Solo, they only got one shot at the spotlight. Singing Jason Derullo’s “Whatcha Say”, they presented the vocal equivalent of a car wreck. Honestly, if they were an all-male group, they might’ve been better, as it was the female singers throwing them off. The song choice did them in. Why sing a song that’s auto-tuned to death? You can’t replicate that with the human voice.

Face – you know that “band” that your dad’s in with the rest of his bowling buddies? Well, then you already know Face. An all-male group from Boulder, CO, Face preferred to be called a “vocal band”. Now, a little sidebar: most groups that prefer “vocal band” are the same ones that are ashamed of the connotations associated with a cappella. If you’re so edgy, pick up a damn electric guitar and get out of my auditorium! Anyway, they thought themselves to be some real hardcore rockers. Sob story alert: they weren’t just a group – they were family. This was proven by the fact that one member’s wife couldn’t have children, so another member’s wife acted as a surrogate. All that group love still didn’t stop their rendition of “Livin’ On A Prayer” from sucking.

Eliminated in Episode 2:

Noteworthy – an all female collegiate group from Brigham Young University, these spunky little ladies like to entertain the world by sharing their faith through the gift of music. They even had cute little fauxhawks, just to show us that those Golden Plates didn’t say anything about making fashion statements. It was a bit audacious when they sang Aretha’s “Think”, but I let it go. Later, they performed Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and “Hold On”, by Wilson Phillips. Here’s the thing with Noteworthy – they weren’t bad at all, but they weren’t great. I’ve heard this many times over the years, but they suffered from the same thing that happens to a lot of female a cappella: due to the lack of a lower register, it renders most arrangements boring and shrill. It’s great when a female group can get a few singers down into a baritone range, but most just end up screeching at you, which is what happened here. They took it in stride, though, and seemed to have a good attitude about the whole thing.

Eliminated in Episode 3:

Maxx Factor – a female barbershop quartet from Baltimore, MD, these ladies were AMAZING. No doubt about it, I think they did wonders for the representation of a cappella, as well as barbershop. The only reason they were eliminated this early was that barbershop can be somewhat limiting, and can only take you so far. For their first song, they did ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” in a 4-part harmony that blew me away. Next, they totally reinvented Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”, putting a more mature spin on it so that it seemed like it was about a woman looking back on her teenage years. Next, they tackled Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”, which was a bit of a stretch, but still fun. Where they fell apart was their Beach Boys medley, as their blend was just off. I’m not sure if it was nerves, lack of practice, or if they just threw the whole damn thing. I don’t think anyone thought much of them at the beginning, but they continued to wow the crowd. If not for that bad medley, they definitely would’ve made the finals. Do I think they should’ve won? No. I had another favorite in mind.

The SoCals – The SoCals are an alumni group from the University of Southern California. While in undergrad, they were all members of the USC SoCal VoCals. I have to interject here that I was already biased against them. Call me a hater, but I just don’t like alumni groups. Maybe it’s my own fall from grace as I had to face the real world after my graduation, where I was forced to grow the fuck up, and I wish they had been faced with the same thing. That said, they weren’t a bad group by any stretch of the imagination. Also, if the producers wanted to draw parallels to Glee, then this was the group most likely to drive home that point. The problem with alum groups is that the members never necessarily sang with each other previously. Sure, they were all originally members of the VoCals, but that doesn’t mean they were all the same year, or in the same iteration of that group. As a result, the blend just wasn’t there. I feel that they’re all good singers, and I’m sure good soloists in their own right, but they didn’t really have the group mesh down. They even had the lamest sob story – one of the blondes had some bullshit gastrointestinal disorder that interfered with her voice. I know, sounds janky to me, too, but I guess they’re fortunate they didn’t have any real problems in their lives. I’m not going to list their songs because they were all basically the same. Their main soloists consisted of a guy who looked just like Mark from Rent, and a Jewish chick who looked like Julie Kavner, the voice of Marge Simpson. I felt like “Mark” treated the whole thing like his own personal audition, as he knew he was talented. I won’t be surprised when he gets hired in a traveling cast of Grease. They were talented, but not very memorable, and didn’t gel as a group. At the end of the day, that lack of personality is what brought them down.

The Finalists:

Voices of Lee – a coed collegiate group from Lee University, a small Christian college in Tennessee. Oh, Voices of Lee! I really don’t know how they made it as far as they did. As with the SoCals, they really lacked personality, and I really hated on their whole gumdrop Christian college story. Ya know why? Because their video bio showed them playing in leaves and visiting the malt shop! Also, they paired the kids off racially in those videos, as I’m sure there’s no interracial dating at Lee. But I digress, they just weren’t great. I was telling Lindsay that they were the type of group that we’d see at a competition and try to figure out which of the girls we were gonna try to bang at the after party. Their main soloist girl was the only memorable thing about them. She had a nice voice, with a peppering of Southern accent, like a beauty pageant contestant. At the end of the day, though, they just weren’t winners. I have to give them credit for hanging in there, and they weren’t bad. Again, they just weren’t GREAT like the other finalists, NOTA and the Tufts Beelzebubs. I also thought it was kinda off that they didn’t thank God in their final speech. I mean, they clung to the whole devout thing throughout the competition, yet they forgot their savior when He didn’t come through for them. Tsk, tsk, Voices of Lee!

Tufts Beelzebubs – an all-male group from Tufts University, the Beelzebubs are part of a 47-year tradition. When it comes to all-male a cappella, these guys are as good as it gets. Ask anyone in the know, and they will tell you that the ‘Bubs are among the Top 3 groups in the country. They’re just that damn good. I have nothing but respect for them, as I watch them and I can see how they influenced my own group, as they’re great at singing but, more importantly, it’s clear that they’re having fun while singing. I can’t tell you how important it is to make your audience aware of the fact that you’re having fun onstage. You engage them, and they feel like they’re a part of the experience. The Bubs were SO good on the show that it really wasn’t even a competition. They never really had an “off” song, and they were clearly the favorites of the audience. Here’s why The Bubs didn’t win: as good as they were, they were a great a cappella group. Here me out. Sure, the point of the competition was to showcase great a cappella, but I think Sony Music realizes that the concept only has legs to take it so far. Would the public really want to go down to Target and buy an album by The Bubs? Plus, half of the magic of the Bubs is watching them. In Last Call, we always thought that the listener could tell if you’re smiling while recording, but that just wouldn’t be enough when it comes to The Bubs – you’d have to see them to fully experience them. I also feel that giving a contract to a collegiate group, with a fluctuating roster, would be a legal quagmire. A couple of groups out there have professional contracts, but do you just sign the active membership? Do you sign The Bubs as a group, and the contract goes to whoever’s in the group once the paperwork’s signed? At the end of the day, we all know that the Bubs SHOULD have won, but they didn’t. No, that honor went to the next group:

NOTA – an all-male group from Puerto Rico, I really didn’t think much of them when I first saw them. They were heavily featured in the commercials for the show, yet they were always singing “Down”, by Jay Sean, which I felt was a weak arrangement when translated to a cappella. When it came down to it, though, they were just a bunch of nice guys with a great sound. Their blend was amazing, and they were like a modern day Rockapella, when it came to the lush backgrounds in the arrangements of their other songs. Their signature, though it got old fast, was when they would “mexicate” (copyright williambrucewest.com, 2009) their songs. What do I mean by that? Well, they’d be singing “Down”, and in the middle, they would break it down with vocal trumpets and a fast-paced meringue interlude. As Paula might say, “they really took the songs and made them their own”. The beauty of NOTA was that they took the a cappella ball and ran with it. Ultimately, the goal of a cappella is to make the listener forget that there are no instruments involved. With this is mind, a great a cappella group should ALSO be a great singing group, instruments or no. The Bubs were an amazing a cappella group, but NOTA was a great group overall. The Bubs were a group I’d love to go see, while NOTA’s a group I’d love to hear on the radio. Just like Boyz II Men, they could have a career as an a cappella group, or an R&B vocal group. They’re the group that Sony could get the most mileage out of, so they’re the group that ultimately had to win.

Before wrapping up, it’s only fair that I touch on the judges for the show:

Ben Folds – when you’re a white kid in a liberal arts school, you’re forced to choose your musical savior during orientation. Will you have Dave Matthews on repeat, or will you be rocking out to Ben Folds’s “Kate”? As every coed group in America has covered “Brick”, it’s only natural that Ben Folds have a hand in the judging. He’s a lot less hip than you’d believe, though. I made the comment that he’s what you would get if you mixed Jack Tripper with Mr Furley. That said, he was good in the role and I hope comes back should there be a second season. I still think he should’ve sung “Brick”, the BEST song about teenage pregnancy, with the Christian group. That would’ve been legendary.

Nicole Scherzinger – currently of the Pussycat Dolls, formerly of Eden’s Crush, Nicole knows all about group dynamics. That said, she never really seemed comfortable in her role as a judge. It was unknown what her link to the “a cappella world” was, and it was as if she had studied other female judges from reality shows. The first night, she was Paula. The second night, she was Lil Mama. By night three, she was Paula Lite, which is where she remained. If the show is renewed, she’s the most expendable. Hell, might as well get Ellen in that chair, too. I’d love to hear her take on the groups.

Shawn Stockman – of Boyz II Men fame, Shawn was probably the most enlightening judge, as he’d been where most of the groups were coming from. Prior to the show, I’d only known him as “the tall guy from Boyz II Men”. You know, the one who wasn’t “nerd with glasses”, “dude with the cane”, or “the one who was bangin’ Brandy back in the day”. Not only do I want every outfit in his closet, he gave some great advice, and he was clearly moved by each and every performance. His only low point was the “reunion” of Boyz II Men on the finale, as they were hitting some pretty rough notes. Not his fault, though – it’s just clear that you need a bass when you’re singing 4 part harmony.

So, did The Sing Off meet my expectations? It not only met them, but it surpassed them. The spectrum of groups represented shattered a lot of preconceived notions about a cappella, as the world saw that barbershop can be cool, Mormons can rock out, and Puerto Ricans love the Bee Gees. I loved the show, and the ratings seem to show that America loved the show, too. All of the groups worked hard, and it’s not like you can really “win” at a cappella. That said, the most marketable group won, and I look forward to hearing more from NOTA. Still think my rendition of “Lean On Me” was better, though :p

30th Apr2008

Possible Boyband Revival, Chris Brown, and Last Call

by Will

“Fat people are harder to kidnap”

Can you feel it in the air? It’s coming! What, pray tell? The Boyband Revival!

If you remember, these fads occur in cycles. Around 1986, we had New Kids on the Block. They lasted for about 4 years and it fell apart. Then, around ’96, Backstreet Boys finally hit it big (after a false start in ’94 – the world wasn’t ready yet), followed by ‘NSYNC, with both groups tearin’ up the charts and our hearts. While they were on top, a few New Kids came back (Joey, Jordan), while the main boybanders begat a slew of imitators (O-Town, 911, SoulDecision, Youngstown, LMNT, Natural, 5ive, Take 5, C-Note and the list goes on and on). Now, here we are, in 2008, and we’ve got the return of NKOTB, rumors of a 5ive reunion across the pond, and this little tidbit I found today:

http://www.myspace.com/bandemoniumtour

That’s right, boyband manager extraordinaire, Johnny Wright, is at it again with BANDEMONIUM, a national tour featuring Menudo, NLT, Glowb and V Factory (God, I hope V Factor is comprised of a bunch of virgins – what a clever gimmick!). The only recognizable group is Menudo, and that’s because of that craptacular Making-the-Band style show on MTV last year where the group was created. This kind of event, however, is how Backstreet Boys got big. Lou Pearlman held a bunch of Transcontinental Records showcases, and this propelled the Backstreet Boys to international stardom. Sure, there were other groups (Solid HarmoniE, LFO, Innosense – if you ever want to see all of Lou’s acts in one place, track down a DVD copy of Longshot, as it was part of their contracts to appear in some way, shape or form) but they had to fail so that BSB could succeed. Out of these 4 boybands listed for Bandemonium, 3 of them ain’t gonna make it. But I can feel it in the air: bubblegum pop is almost back, and I couldn’t be happier! The Jonas Brothers just kind of reopened the door: the boyband that plays their own instruments. Pretty soon, though, the “Hannah Montana Generation” is going to demand choreographed dancing, frosted tips, and Burger King CD giveaways. It’ll be great to hear something not produced by Timbaland, and not featuring T-Pain or Akon. And, oh, what a glorious day that will be!

What is with “Love In This Club Pt II”? They took a hot song and just made it boring. Did Beyonce really need to be invited to this party?

Has anyone seen the video for Jordin Sparks’s “No Air”? What is that all about? She & Chris Brown would have air if they weren’t wasting it, screaming at each other! He’s right in front of you, in that hoodie he always wears. What are you screaming about, Jordin? Stop yelling in Chris Brown’s face like that!

Speaking of Chris Brown, I really like that dude. I was in JT’s corner, but as his star rose, he got a little too smug for my tastes (plus, it didn’t help that he slept with every woman on the average male’s “dream list”). Chris, on the other hand, seems so down-to-earth, even in spite the neck tattoo and that hoodie he never takes off. Chris Brown is like your pretty boy cousin that you only see at the family reunion. His mom is going on and on about, “Chris just made the basketball team”, and your aunt comes in and says something like, “Mmm, that boy is gonna be a heartbreaker, with his good-lookin’ self!” And Chris just smiles and says something like, “Well, you know…” And you sit there, thinking, “I wish someone thought I was a heartbreaker…”

I thought Chris had a new track until I found out it was Jesse McCartney. Anybody heard “Leavin'” yet? I’ve got to give it to Jesse – he took his “beautiful soul” underground for a few years, and I really think it helped his creativity. Well, that and puberty. A lot of people don’t realize he wrote Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love”, collaborating with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder (sidenote: I really think Ryan Tedder’s going to be the David Foster of our generation. He’s just getting started, and he’s going to be prolific as Hell!). Jesse’s releasing his version as a hidden track on his new CD, Departure. Having heard his version, I’ll say it’s different, but I still like it. Leona simply sells the vocals, while Jesse sells the lyrics.

How is Chloe Lattanzi still on Rock the Cradle? Seriously, who is she pleasuring with those amazing lips of hers?

Still not watching Idol, but I caught the mp3 of David Cook’s “Always Be My Baby”. That’s gotta be the best reinterpretation of a song since Clapton’s unplugged “Layla”. Yeah, it’s that good.

In closing, I spent last weekend @ Cornell, taking in the spring show of my boys, my family, Last Call. When I was in that group, it was always my hope to go down in history as, maybe, one of the Top 20 soloists in LC. Unfortunately for me, the group just gets better and better, quickly knocking me off that list. I shall one day simply be a footnote in their existence. Maybe I’ll make the list for Top 20 Black soloists in LC. Either way, I’m proud of them, as they truly kick ass. I’ve got to say, though, nothing wakes you up quite like this quote, which was said to me at the afterparty: “Oh my God, I had such a crush on you when I was twelve.” Yeah, apparently, I’m that old now…

15th Jun2007

Last Call: Brewed In The Attic, Lil Mama & Avril Lavigne, Where’s Christopher Cross?

by Will

I wake up, it’s a bad dream
No one on my side
I was fighting
But I just feel too tired
To be fighting
Guess I’m not the fighting kind”

I tell ya, nothing brighten’s up your morning like hearing the squarest bunch of guys around singing T.I.’s “What You Know (About That)”! In-freaking-credible! Yes, folks. It’s gonna be a music post!

So, LC sent me Brewed in the Attic, which is their latest CD. Now, I feel I need to preface this because it’s going to come off a little backhanded: this CD is awesome if you’re into nouveau, mixed a cappella. I’m coming to the realization that I like bad a cappella. The kind that’s not really processed, and you might hear the soloist crack a note every now and then. I realize this is equivalent to a guy admitting that he likes ugly women, but I like what I like.

Don’t get me wrong, this CD blows the doors off anything I ever had a hand in recording, and I was really impressed by most of the tracks. First off, I’m jealous of Jamie & Nishant, as they got to sing 2 songs that I’d kill a hobo to record (Get Ready & A Change is Gonna Come, respectively). This CD solidified the fact that Nishant is one of the top 5 soloists in LC history (no, don’t ask me the other 4, and no, I don’t consider myself one of them).

And John Cape *killed* Careless Whisper. I didn’t know he had it in him, as it’s such a well done track. I’d be such an asshole in this group, ’cause I’d be auditioning for ever solo thrown out there. I really love their active rep. Oh yeah, they were the square guyssinging What You Know (About That), which caps off the album. For reals. And it was awesome. Part of me thinks they got the idea from Divisi doing Yeah!, but I don’t care. Amazing arrangement!

So, what’s my problem? I like my recorded a cappella pure. My mom once asked me, “What’s the point of a cappella? So, they don’t have instruments? Why not go and get some instruments?” It sounded delightfully ignorant at the time (I’m such a snob sometimes), but now I see where she was coming from. Back in the day, part of the charm was that you could harmonize and substitute for the instruments. Your mouth wasn’t a guitar, but you were “ooh-ing” and “bah-ing” in lieu of an instrument. In essence, a cappella was the art of vocal improvisation, in a way.

I like my a cappella to sound like the same thing I’d hear in concert. As far as mixed cd’s go, I’ve always thought they’d be a cool thing to have around A) if you had the funds available and b) you just wanted to see how you might sound in that format; purely for shits and giggles. I don’t like my a cappella to sound like Peter Cetera (listen to Glory of Love or Hard to Say I’m Sorry to understand that…). The way the “industry” is going, though, all collegiate a cappella is heading down this road, which somewhat saddens me. I was reading a review of a Hangovers disc the other day, and they said something like, “This would have been BOCA quality 4 yrs ago.” What has changed? Talent hasn’t changed. The essence of music hasn’t changed. But the production expectations have changed. It’s a new ballgame out there, and while these groups are doing awesome, awesome things, I think my number was up in a cappella at just the right time. Anyway, enough about a cappella…

Amy Winehouse’s album is even better than people say it is. It’s such a creative concept; it’s like someone asked, “I wonder what a Supremes album with a parental advisory label would sound like.” Same vibe (which I’ve been begging someone to bring back for yrs now!) and same general song length. It’s like a Motown revival! Sure, Rehab is great and gets a lot of spin, but you really need to check out Back in Black and Love is a Losing Game. So true, Amy…In any case, I hope she doesn’t get boxed into a corner. Now, she’s “broody, soulful Motown chick”, but the novelty of that might wear off. Remember, Fiona Apple was the brooding, jazz standard chick. The inevitable “reinvention” album is right around the corner. And then, Amy’ll end up fighting with her 80 yr-old label head over what’s considered “cool” in the music game…

While I felt it was too early to crown the “Song of Summer 2007”, I know that the distinction HAS to go to Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls”. It’s so cute and catchy, and you’re going to fucking hate it by Labor Day. Like I posted on Marcus’s blog, “Suicidal, Suicidal, Suicidal” is going to be the white kids’ new “Hey, it must be the money!”

Snippets:
Why did Rihanna sample Blue Monday? It doesn’t even fit that song!

Maroon 5’s Makes Me Wonder is pure hotness. The instrumental, alone, is disco sex, but the lyrics just add the spice as they’re so bitter. If you go back and listen to Songs About Jane, you’ll see that most of their songs are pretty post-relationship and bitter. With the exception of She Will Be Loved, Adam was telling some chick that he was fucking through with her. Apparently, that has carried over to the new album.

U+Ur Hand has grown on me. Still kind of hate the message, but I get where she’s coming from.

New BSB single leaked. Happily Never After. It’s awful. I don’t even know why they’re still trying. And I was their biggest fan. This current shit is too lame for Soft Rock Adult Contemporary. They’ve just lost their…thing.

The Li’l Mama & Avril Lavigne Girlfriend remix is the shit. It makes me wanna break into a high school and bang on lockers, as Toni Basil drones on and on about that Mickey fucker…

Where is Christopher Cross right this very minute? There is a hole in Adult Contemporary that could easily be filled by an amazing Christopher Cross comeback. The man gave us Arthur’s Theme, The Best That You Can Do, and Sailing. There isn’t an elevator out there that hasn’t played a Muzak version of his stuff. I really think he’s got a few more hits in him for that Delilah demographic.

All for now. Back later with a 21 Day Wedding Party update…

15th Jan2007

Yale A Cappella Kids Got Their Asses KICKED!

by Will

“Thank you, Chuck Norris!”

And THIS is why I don’t miss a cappella:

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/01/10/BAGPQNG2MM1.DTL

New Year’s nightmare for visiting Yale singers
Phillip Matier, Andrew Ross
Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Click to View

How’s this for an only-in-San Francisco story:

Members of the Baker’s Dozen, the renowned, all-male a cappella singing group from Yale, are pummeled outside a New Year’s Eve party after singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The attackers allegedly include graduates from Sacred Heart Cathedral, one of the city’s oldest and best-known private schools.

The attack happens outside the home of two prominent San Francisco police officers — former mayoral bodyguard Reno Rapagnani, now retired, and his wife, Leanna Dawydiak — who were both accused and later cleared of leaking internal SFPD personnel documents during the Fajitagate debacle.

As if that weren’t enough, the dean of Yale College has weighed in, as has one of the victim’s fathers, Sharyar Aziz — a prominent New York banker whose son’s jaw was busted in two places. He has not only called the mayor’s office and police chief — he’s also retained the law firm Gonzalez (as in former mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez) and Leigh to keep the heat on the cops and make sure “the individuals behind this heinous assault (are) apprehended.”

As Rapagnani tells it, his 19-year-old daughter was hosting a New Year’s Eve party at the family’s Richmond District home for the Baker’s Dozen, who were in town as part of a West Coast tour.

The 16 singers showed up late to the party wearing preppy sport jackets and ties, and launched into “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

A couple of uninvited guests started mocking them, and allegedly the words “faggot” and “homo” were tossed — and so were a couple of punches.

The loud noise drew relatives from next door, who promptly ordered the house cleared.

The Yale kids, most of whom were staying with a family a block away, began heading home.

But witnesses said one of the uninvited guests — who happens to be the son of a prominent Pacific Heights family — pulled out his cell phone and said, “I’m 20 deep. My boys are coming.”

According to Rapagnani and others, the Yale kids barely made it around the corner when they were intercepted by a van full of young men.

“They were surrounded, then tripped — and when they were on the ground, they were kicked,” Rapagnani said.

According to police reports, the cops arrived about 12:40 a.m. to find 20 people fighting in the street.

To the police, who were out in force to keep a lid on New Year’s, it looked like just another drunken brawl.

But according to Rapagnani, “This was not a fight — it was an attack.”

Four of the alleged assailants were detained at the scene, then released after the cops took their names.

Meanwhile, Sharyar Aziz Jr. was taken by paramedics to San Francisco General Hospital, and later had to undergo reconstructive surgery in New York for a broken jaw that will remain wired shut for eight weeks.

Another unidentified Yale student sought treatment for a concussion, and a third for a swollen ankle and other abrasions.

Yale Dean Peter Salovey told the school paper that he was “shocked and appalled” by the incident, which has yet to yield an arrest.

Police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens said the investigation was continuing and that more people still needed to be interviewed.

Now authorities want the Yale students — who have left San Francisco and will soon be back in school — to return to the city to identify their attackers.

But dad Aziz said arranging their return won’t be easy.

“The kids are scared s — less of coming back to San Francisco,” he said. “I’m just really frustrated.”

Special thanks to T for the link!

02nd Apr2006

University of Oregon Divisi: Best Female Collegiate A Cappella. In the WORLD.

by Will

“We are Divisi, pretending we’re Usher.”

OR

“Everytime I think I’m out…”

So, I just got back from what I will consider a great trip to Ithaca. Reunited with the men of Last Call, visited a REAL Wegmans, and dined with the lovely El. I also had the pleasure of watching possibly the best a cappella group I have ever seen. And get this: they were women! I was really trying to “grow out of a cappella”. Tell myself that those days were over and I should stop caring about bops and d’jims and ziggas. But now I’ve got the itch again.

I wish everyone could have the pleasure of seeing a performance by University of Oregon Divisi. Female a cappella gets a bad wrap for being boring and/or lacking performance. These ladies blow all of those stereotypes out of the water. I have been in this game for awhile, and I’m pretty familiar with what different groups are doing. Not only am I going to say that they are the best female group around, hands down, but they are quite possibly THE best group in the country. Men, women, and coed. You’ve got your ‘Bubs, and Off the Beat, and Everyday People, but a lot of them are living on borrowed time. They built a name for themselves awhile ago, and people still remember those past accomplishments. Hell, I still tell people about The Today Show, and that was 4 years ago. These ladies are totally making a name for themselves today, and it’s hard to believe that they’ve only been around since 2002.

Not only were they incredible performers, but they were cool as shit. Best. Guest.Group.Ever.

So, enough gushing from me because A) I would like to avoid the “So, why are you so obsessed with Divisi?” coming from the missus, and B) I would like to walk away without looking like too much of a stalker.

Anyway, check ’em out for yourselves:

http://www.myspace.com/uodivisi

and

http://www.uodivisi.com

17th Nov2005

She Lost It For Guys In Black Turtlenecks

by Will

“More than meets the eye!”

So, as an addendum to the Myspace saga, I was looking at the pic and I realized I was wearing the The Black Turtleneck.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever told this story on the blog before, but if you’ve met me for more than 5 mins, you’ve heard this story.

Anyway, back in college, I used to look forward to a cappella events ’cause that was the extent of my social life. When we’d go on tour to other schools, that was the mother lode. Imagine, being 19 and thinking you’re the shit ’cause you can sing a poor rendition of a popular boyband song, and people will ACTUALLY pay money to watch you do it! It was the tits.

One of our favorite schools to visit was Yale. Now, I missed the first trip which yielded National Greg Levow Day (ask a callboy), but I WAS there for the next trip. We were singing with a group called Something Extra (who ROCKED, btw) and we knew that afterwards was the obligatory “after party”. Sometimes these parties were ragers. Sometimes we would’ve had more fun at a Denny’s. This party was…interesting, to say the least.

Well, I happened to be wearing the same sweater as in the pic, and little did I know it would become a conversation piece. One of the members of Something Extra starts giggling to one of her friends. I guess the friend said “Go for it”, ’cause the next thing I know, there she is in front of me. Let’s examine the awkward exchange which followed (along with commentary!):

Her: “Oh my god! Are you wearing a black turtleneck?” (What kind of a line IS that?)

Me: “Uhh….yeah…” (Smooth, Will)

Her: “Oh, god! I totally LOSE IT for guys in black turtlenecks!” (Umm…desperation, party of 1)

Me: *nervous laughter* “uhh…heh…you lose it for guys in black turtlenecks?” (that’s right, Will. Reflect it right back at her)

Her: “Yeah!”

Me: *nervous laughter* “…..” *turn and run away*

Yeah, I ran. It goes without saying that we weren’t invited to sing with Something Extra again. Was that the reason? Probably not. But I gained a new reputation that night. I’d gone from being “The Black Guy in Last Call” to being “That Weird Black Guy in Last Call”. We had Eddie by then, so he was the normal one, and I was the crazy Negro.

It loses some of its emphasis on paper, ’cause you have to see the gleam in her eye. She TOTALLY lost it for guys in black turtlenecks, but what exactly was “it”? I’m thinking her sanity. Either way, I didn’t even know how to play that game. Was it a joke? Was it real? The world may never know. But I’m still alive today, so I think running was the correct choice…

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