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ALBUM REVIEW: Haerts plays it safe on their debut LP

HAERTS is a four-piece indie pop group from Brooklyn, N.Y. Around this time last year, the band released Hemiplegia through Columbia Records. The EP paid tribute to the disco-pop sensibilities of the 1980s while attempting to renew the sound with a glossy production and a careful attention to currents trends in indie pop (see Grimes).

This time around, HAERTS brings more of the same hook-laden compositions (“Hemiplegia” and “Wings” from Hemiplegia actually reappear on Haerts). Heavy with shimmering synths and dreamy production, Haerts does its best to encompass the listener in a thick blanket of feelings. Moody backing instrumentals carry lead singer Nini Fabi as she croons about vague notions of love and makes lofty metaphors about “darkness” and “floating away.” Everything about the formula that HAERTS adheres to makes perfect sense, and yet there is something undeniably hollow about the execution of the album.

One thing is for sure: Haerts knows its roots. There are moments on the LP where it feels like HAERTS is almost too aware of the retro decade to which they pay homage—”Call My Name” is essentially Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” watered-down and repackaged. While I admire the shamelessness of the tribute, HAERTS hasn’t quite got the chops to play it this safe without bringing anything new to the table.

At the end of the day, Haerts feels too comfortable in its own unremarkable skin. The band is fully conscious of their influences and seems perfectly happy treading ground that had been trodden to oblivion by artists who have proven to be far more capable than HAERTS. Unfortunately, their output has yet to surpass “sleepy background noise.” However, if you yearn for the lost era of cheese pop and hair metal, you may find some value in Haerts. In this case, make sure you pre-order the album from iTunes. Otherwise, don’t feel bad passing this one up.

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Album Review: That’s Christmas To Me, Pentatonix

Fans of a cappella rejoice: singing sensations Pentatonix have returned with their sixth album (and second holiday album) That’s Christmas To Me. Capitalizing on what seems to be the “a cappella craze” that has swept pop culture over the past few years, Pentatonix rose to fame after winning the third season of NBC’s The Sing-Off. The group then signed a record deal with Sony Music Entertainment and enjoyed viral success posting videos of their songs on their Youtube channel.

Perhaps Pentatonix’s biggest success is their ability to attract listeners by putting a unique pop spin on a cappella, through both their pop/soul flavor and their choice to cover hit singles and well-known favorites. The group put out their first holiday album, PTXmas, in 2012, featuring a small 6-track compilation ranging from traditional Christmas favorites like “Angels We Have Heard On High” to more modern ones like “This Christmas.” With That’s Christmas To Me, their first full-length holiday album, the five-piece group delivers plenty more vocal harmonies and fun takes on Christmas classics.

The album begins with a rather austere version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” sounding more like a traditional choir of carolers than the upbeat pop sound for which the group is known. However, about a third of the way through the song, the group launches into Pentatonix’s signature sound. A raucous, soulful, hand-clapping chorus with a bit of a hip-hop breakdown towards the end helps put a fun and interesting twist on the classic carol.

This momentum continues throughout the rest of the album, with the five-piece group putting a soulful flair on old favorites like “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “Winter Wonderland/Don’t Worry Be Happy.” Yes, you read that right: the latter track even features a mashup with the 1988 Bobby McFerrin reggae hit. Interesting choices like this showcase Pentatonix’s talent with traditional a cappella techniques, because, though the mashup is unexpected, it flows seamlessly.

Perhaps the most fun and memorable moments of the album are “Sleigh Ride” and “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” both of which offer kitschy and fun backup vocals and a catchy pop sound. “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” is also one of the only tracks on the album on which bass vocalist Avi Kaplan sings lead, a smart choice that carries the song to a smooth and soulful level.

The album offers some slower, more somber moments like “Mary, Did You Know,” as well as the group’s original song and the title track “That’s Christmas To Me.” With less of an upbeat sound, strong singing chops are essential to make these songs worth a listen, and Pentatonix definitely delivers. The final track on the album, “Silent Night,” is a peaceful, slowed-down number that leaves the listener on a soft and sweet note. The cover of the traditional hymn is simple, but polished, a good choice with which to end.

On the whole, Pentatonix delivers a holiday album filled with beloved classics that most fans of a cappella and casual listeners alike can appreciate. The group’s attention to detail is clear, as the vocal arrangements are clever and harmonious and flow well and ensure that there is never a dull moment. Most of all, even when working with songs as beloved and well-known as these, Pentatonix doesn’t compromise their pop flavor. Check out That’s Christmas To Me for a fun and innovative a cappella spin on the holidays.

Listen to “Winter Wonderland/Don’t Worry Be Happy” below:

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