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Chorallaries' Earshot infuses too much sensitivity


The Chorallaries of MIT.

Dean Cerrato G, director.

By Scott Deskin
Arts Editor

The Chorallaries' latest release, Earshot, comes a scant year after their last release, Better Late Than Never. While the group is eager to serve up renditions of songs from their most recent a capella performances, I personally have doubts about what purpose this album can serve. After all, how much can a group change in one year? Perhaps the Chorallaries are eager to dispel the notion that their interpretive abilities (though not their technical ability) has diminished in recent years, as seen in the increasing languor of the last several Bad Taste shows. However, if Earshot isn't a technical marvel, it does give the group a much-needed shot in the arm as far as vivacity is concerned.

As with the previous album, the songs are carefully-selected pop confections that are primarily arranged for solo voice and accompaniment. With no instrumentation other than the human voice to carry the group, the ensemble comes together best on the backing vocals, which primarily consist of imitation drum beats and various choral intonations that provide a firm basis for each of the songs on the album.

To kick things off, Duran Duran's "Rio" finally gets the studio treatment. The sound tends toward overbrightness, and the voices which simulate synthesizer hooks and drum machines sound more cheezy than breezy, as if the group were locked into one of its "Tewhey" or "O.J." parodies at the Bad Taste concerts. The Indigo Girls' "Airplane" lends itself to a better a capella interpretation, although the "jing-jangs" grate after a while, and the pretentiousness of the lyrics - "closer my God to thee" - isn't suffused from the original version, no doubt.

Two compositions by Sting, "Mad About You" and "Synchronicity I," find the group settling into a more relaxed groove (although some dead spots mar the technical fervor of the latter song), and R.E.M.'s "Find the River" (with a heartfelt solo by arranger Peter Cho '97) are all welcome efforts, although the lyrics are still weighty: One wonders if the Chorallaries strive to find "sensitive" songs that complement their eager-to-please stage persona.

As always, most cover versions fare best when they stick close to the spirit of the original song. This is evidenced on the playful and fast-moving rhythms of Thomas Dolby's "Blinded Me With Science," Peter Gabriel's "Kiss That Frog," and the B-52s' "Love Shack." Alright, so Michael Daly '95 is no Fred Schneider (in the case of "Love Shack"), but these songs showcase the group's finely-tuned vocals that combine and adapt to the frivolity of their material.

When an a capella group like the Chorallaries focuses its talents on humorous (or lascivious) pursuits, their eager human-orchestral sound has a personal function. When that same group tackles sensitive romantic ballads, for the most part, vivacity turns to banality and clich: I don't question the competence of the group members, but I think that some more upbeat numbers could help.

In short, Earshot is a solid effort that most Chorallaries fans will definitely want to pick up. For non-diehard a capella observers like myself, the album serves as a technically proficient reminder of what makes the Chorallaries such a good ensemble; yet, at the same time, it leaves me wanting much more.