Album Review: Not Too Shabby

Not Too Shabby

Not Too Shabby

This is the best album of the year.

I’m talking about 2013, of course. Although I’d be surprised if this was topped in 2014, to be honest, such is the simply exquisite nature of this record. The Sons of Pitches have topped off what has undoubtedly been the best year of the group’s existence with a flawless four-track album that knocks any potential pretenders to the throne firmly off their perch. It’s modern, it’s funky, it’s unique, it’s stylish, and it’s bloody brilliant.

I sound like I’m gushing. Fine. Let me guide you through the reasons why this album is so flippin’ awesome.

The Sons of Pitches do not cover songs. They take songs, rip them apart, put an entirely new spin on them, add in some highly unconventional backing techniques, and put them back together again. They do this with flair and buckets of talent which any group would kill to possess – and the fact there’s only seven of them make it that much more impressive. The beatboxing is at worst excellent, at best frantically awe-inspiring; the bass has brief moments of glory which are taken with aplomb; some of the falsetto makes you wonder if they haven’t snuck a couple of girls in at the last minute; and even the more ‘common’ baritone and tenor voices have a little something extra than most other groups, whether it be a flicker of soul, a high, biting belt or an ooze of charisma.

Talent is one thing; displaying it in the right way is another. The Sons of Pitches know their strengths and play to them, track after track. The first, Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, is a marvellous romp that demonstrates everything the boys are good at. The awesome swelling “wah wah wah” backing vocals throughout the first verse add so much more than a simple “ba” or “da” that other groups might employ; they take this to another level with “shwah, shwah-dah, swiggedy-dah, shwiggah-dah” during the chorus (listen to it if you don’t know what I mean) followed by an awesome breakdown with an African feel, brought about by the “kum-ya-te” and the (admittedly highly produced but in the best way possible) muffled beatbox. I haven’t even touched upon the solo yet – Joes Hinds and Novelli harmonise seamlessly and produce a soaring lead throughout. Even the end is highly creative, with the solo dropping to a funky and playful close. A roaring opener.

The second track is Lose Yourself by Eminem, although it becomes apparent from the off that it brings in elements of Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me A River. Considering the first half of the track is predominantly rap, the arrangement is surprisingly highly musical. The eerie opening drops marvellously into the deliberate beat of Lose Yourself and correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure they got Eminem in especially to rap on the track. Either that or some sort of identically-sounding doppelgänger. The thematic eeriness continues in the staccato, echoing “ah-oh-ah-oh” behind the rap before the song drops into what is a moment of genius: a pause to hear the crackle of a record player before a slowly rising pianissimo of “You betta lose yourself in the moment…” which is a perfect example of how playful a cappella production can work like a dream. It’s the best moment on the album. Upon melding into Cry Me A River, many of the themes from Lose Yourself remain, which is vital for a successful mash-up, as well as the addition of yet more playful nuances which make each and every second of listening to the track new, fresh and exciting. This is a stonkingly good track.

Having ticked the rap and disco boxes, the boys move on successfully to a jazz version of Oasis’ Wonderwall, with baritone Joe Belham leading the solo with bags, nay, bucketloads of charisma. One minor, minor criticism of this track is that it doesn’t quite come off as entertaining as it does when it’s performed live, although that’s more testament to the Sons’ humorous choreography than a comment on the state of the arrangement itself. Belham’s saunter through the song is reminiscent of Robbie Williams in his Swing When You’re Winning days, while the comical yet perfect high-pitched “And all those roads are winding” from Hinds and Novelli add an extra lace of frivolity to the feel-good number. Topped off with Hinds’ belt of a top A at the end and you have a slick, smooth arrangement with a rich solo – top marks again.

The final track is the original track, You Are The One. It has everything good from the previous three tracks and more: a reverberating beatbox breakdown, echoed backing, more unusual vowel sounds, some frankly phenomenal bass and a really catchy solo that is great to sing along to. I would know. It’s a short track, under three minutes, but gets everything done that needs to be done while remaining very fresh.

I’m genuinely running out of superlatives for this album. If you haven’t bought it yet, you should, even if you don’t like a cappella. I repeat: this is the best album of the year. By far.

You can buy Not Too Shabby right here.

Best of British 2013: 4. Christmas Gets Worse Every Year

The Best of British 2013 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live OR competitive debut since our last countdown commenced (Dec 2012 – Nov 2013)
b) A song that was featured on an album released since our last countdown commenced (Dec 2012 – Nov 2013)
Furthermore:
c) No tracks considered for last year’s countdown are eligible this year.
For example, although The Other Guys‘ Christmas was released in 2012, last year’s countdown started before the release of the album, so all the tracks on the album were eligible. On the flip side, although The Oxford Alternotives wowed with their rendition of Regina Spektor’s Samson at this year’s VF-UK, because it was released in album form in 2012, it was considered last year and therefore was ineligible this year.

The Process

We made a list of all the eligible songs from all the eligible groups, and then picked the top three tracks from each group, where possible. We then narrowed this shortlist down to 25, before picking our 10 favourite tracks. Opinions were divided, scores were combined, and in the end there was only one winner. But who will it be?

The countdown continues:

10. Semi-Toned – Knights of Cydonia
9. The Oxford Belles – This Is Titanium
8. The Alleycats – Dancing On My Own
7. The Oxford Alternotives – Lovely Day
6. Choral Stimulation – Ode To Glasgow
5. All the King’s Men – Higher Love

4. The Other Guys – Christmas Gets Worse Every Year

Sleigh-riding into fourth place is The Other Guys’ festive effort from last Christmas, Christmas Gets Worse Every Year, written by and featuring good friend of the group, Oscar Foxley. The song reached number 32 on the Official Scottish Charts last Christmas, and so while the group’s number one campaign didn’t quite succeed, they definitely made a splash. According to MD at the time, Matthew Pattie, however, the group never intended to release the track as a single. “We had wanted to do a Christmas album for over a year but hadn’t been able to. A single was never on the horizon until I spoke to Oscar Foxley who mentioned he had written a Christmas song. The idea of an original track was so exciting we jumped on it and I commissioned him to arrange it for us.”

The ‘album track’ quickly became popular within the group, and when the suggestion was made to record and release a video to accompany it as a potential Christmas single, the group lapped up the opportunity. “We felt it was such a wonderful song and so unique that we had to make more of it,” said Pattie. “We decided first to release it as a single. The idea for a video came afterwards. Then, freezing cold on the side of The Cairngorms mid-filming we all agreed, in a state of delirium, why not go for Christmas Number 1? We didn’t manage it – but we had a good crack. Charting at all was an amazing achievement.” The group are well known for their YouTube video successes (with last year’s St Andrews Girls charting at number 10 on our countdown last year), and Christmas Gets Worse proved more successful than the former, racking up 150,000 views at time of writing. The single also raised over £2000 for Student Bursaries in St Andrews. Pattie continues: “We couldn’t be happier. Well, we could – we could have been at Elton John’s Christmas party celebrating number 1, but you can’t win ’em all…”

Following its YouTube exposure, the song made its live début at St Andrews’ Christmas Concert. “The home crowd loved it, and bizarrely, because of YouTube, some of them were singing along,” revealed Pattie, also adding that it was definitely his personal favourite track from his final year in the group. “It’s so special and has so many memories attached to it. That whole album does – it was a really special one to make, because it really captured so much of the group’s personality. As a stand-alone track though, yes, I think it would be my favourite. It’s a great sing.”

The popularity of the song comes not just because of the arrangement or the performance, but also because of the story behind it, according to the former Musical Director: “I think people love the love story. It’s something they can connect with. It’s a beautiful piece of music, arranged wonderfully for us to sing. Also the uniqueness of it – it’s a genuine, heart-felt original Christmas song. You don’t get those very often anymore and I think people appreciated that.”

You can watch Christmas Gets Worse Every Year again right here, or listen to and buy the whole album on Bandcamp.

Best of British 2013: 5. Higher Love

The Best of British 2013 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live OR competitive debut since our last countdown commenced (Dec 2012 – Nov 2013)
b) A song that was featured on an album released since our last countdown commenced (Dec 2012 – Nov 2013)
Furthermore:
c) No tracks considered for last year’s countdown are eligible this year.
For example, although The Other Guys‘ Christmas was released in 2012, last year’s countdown started before the release of the album, so all the tracks on the album were eligible. On the flip side, although The Oxford Alternotives wowed with their rendition of Regina Spektor’s Samson at this year’s VF-UK, because it was released in album form in 2012, it was considered last year and therefore was ineligible this year.

The Process

We made a list of all the eligible songs from all the eligible groups, and then picked the top three tracks from each group, where possible. We then narrowed this shortlist down to 25, before picking our 10 favourite tracks. Opinions were divided, scores were combined, and in the end there was only one winner. But who will it be?

The countdown continues:

10. Semi-Toned – Knights of Cydonia
9. The Oxford Belles – This Is Titanium
8. The Alleycats – Dancing On My Own
7. The Oxford Alternotives – Lovely Day
6. Choral Stimulation – Ode To Glasgow

5. All the King’s Men – Higher Love

Dropping delicately into the top 5 of our countdown is the opening number from All the King’s Men‘s award-winning VF-UK 2013 set, Steve Winwood’s Higher Love merged with Ed Sheeran’s Give Me Love. The group actually topped our countdown last year with their cover of Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek, and while Higher Love isn’t far from the standard of Hide and Seek in terms of musicality, arrangement and performance, it was more the raised standard of competition that has caused this slight dip in placing for the group – and indeed, what probably led to the group leaving this year’s VF-UK Final empty handed.

The song made its début very early on the year at the group’s annual Greenwood Theatre curtain raiser in October, where the group welcomes the new members and says goodbye to the old. MD Jonny Stewart revealed it was perhaps a little rash to perform what ended up being the most difficult number of the year so early on, but believes the gamble paid off. “Understandably the guys were a little nervous about performing in front of the old Men, but for a first performance it was solid enough, and it went down really well with the audience.” He added that a lot of the arrangements learnt later that year seemed a breeze in comparison: “In retrospect, it made everything else after that look a lot easier!”

With Higher Love being one of Stewart’s favourite songs for a long time, it was perhaps no surprise that the song was introduced so soon into his tenure as the group’s Musical Director, a position he has retained this year. “I can’t stop myself from smiling whenever I hear it. There’s something uplifting about the combination of warm pad and vibraphone, allied with a surprisingly complex beat and cheeky horn fills, and having Chaka Khan on backing vocals gives it some serious soul power.” The seeds of the Ed Sheeran sample came about during the group’s flight to Singapore earlier in 2012 as he and fellow group member Josh Cooter ended up “taking full advantage of British Airways’ generous alcohol policy, which made the mashup seem like a great idea at the time!”

The arrangement that the group ended up with went through several revisions: “One of my favourite artists, James Vincent McMorrow, recorded a haunting cover with only piano and vocals, which became the inspiration for the opening section. Removing the instrumentation makes the lyrics come to the fore, and it gave the song a new meaning for me.” However, even when the arrangement had been initially completed, tweaked and performed several times, Stewart and the rest of the group felt there was something missing. It wasn’t until February, one month before the Voice Festival, that the finishing touches were added on the number. “Previously the song had ended with the solo bringing back ‘Bring me a higher love‘ over the ‘O my my a‘ 6/8 accompaniment, which was interesting but not really a climactic ending; we noticed that audiences weren’t really sure when to clap or not! As it happened, our hosts at Yale, the mixed-voice group Out of the Blue, did a version of Higher Love which was much closer to the original, including the trio of bombastic backing singers at the end. The audience were absolutely loving it, and, although nobody said it at the time, we were all thinking that this was something we could use to our advantage.” Stewart took full advantage of this receptive ending being fresh in his mind: “Feeling inspired on the train the next day, I tinkered with the arrangement, printed it off at Harvard, and then rehearsed it with the group. It couldn’t have worked any better; though the arrangement is (of course) not lifted, we owe a debt of thanks to Yale OotB for the ‘lightbulb’ moment!”

The track was not only the opener for their Voice Festival UK set, but also for their studio album, ‘Royal Flush’, released in the summer. Stewart claims the song perfectly encompasses the spirit and nature of All the King’s Men in a succinct four minutes. “In a competition such as VF-UK, the opening song needs to be all-encompassing, showing the full capability of the group, and Higher Love ticks that box; the opening requires a great deal of sensitivity, both musical and emotional, and the rest is all about the energy of the performance. The arrangement grows continually throughout the song before climaxing in a rousing gospel-style chorus, and I think that forward momentum is really important to any song’s success, both on CD and in competition.” Stewart urges against the idea that the song carried them to the Final of the competition though: “A lot of our work was done in the second and third numbers, but Higher Love did fulfil its function by condensing the spirit of All the King’s Men into roughly four minutes.”

In his closing remarks, Stewart springs a surprise along with some advice: “I usually don’t like mash-ups, as I think they can be highly tenuous. There’s got to be a real connection between the songs involved, far more substantial than a shared chord sequence, and collegiate groups often don’t develop enough ideas when doing a mash-up – they tend to be one song followed by another, rather than a unification of musical and lyrical themes. Higher Love and Give Me Love are both about a deep yearning for something greater, and the mutual themes in the lyrics help make our mash-up effective. It’s also one of the [ed. very!] few instances where the dreaded step-clap works…”

You can purchase Higher Love as part of the group’s latest album, ‘Royal Flush’, on iTunes or listen to it on SoundCloud.

So, All the King’s Men open our top 5. Who will complete it? Stay tuned…

Voice Festival UK 2014 Line-Up Analysis

Exciting news! The line-up for next year’s Voice Festival UK has been announced in the last couple of days, and as an early Christmas present, we thought we would take a look at those competing, revealing the ins, the outs, and the usual suspects in the competition.

2014 will see 27 groups compete, the same number in total as last year, and each group will submit an 8 minute video to the Voice Festival, reminiscent of the International Wild Card round of the ICCAs. The best groups will proceed to two Semi-Finals and then a final, taking place on one weekend in March, where the best group will be crowned VF-UK 2014 University Champions.

So without further ado, here’s the line-up:

The Usual Suspects:
The Sons of Pitches – VF-UK Finalists 2012, 2013; ICCA Finalists 2013
The King’s Chicks
All the King’s Men – VF-UK Winners 2011, Finalists 2012, 2013; ICCAs – 3rd, 2011
The Ultrasounds
Sweet Nothings
Semi-Toned – VF-UK Finalists 2013
Illuminations
The Imperielles
The Scopes
The Techtonics
Score (formerly Voice Versa)
The Uptone Girls
The Treblemakers
The Accidentals – VF-UK Finalists 2010, 2011
The Alleycats – VF-UK Finalists 2009, 2010
The Houghtones
The Songsmiths
Aberpella
Choral Stimulation – VF-UK Finalists 2013

The Debutants:

The J Walkers (University of Birmingham) – a brand new group from the University of Birmingham, The J Walkers make the number of entries from Birmingham up to 5, alongside the Sons of Pitches, Uptone Girls, the newly named Score and last year’s debutants, The Treblemakers. We don’t know much about them just yet, but look forward to seeing what they have to offer.

The Cosmopolitones (University of Leeds) – Leeds’ second a cappella group after The Songsmiths, The Cosmopolitones are an all-female group founded this year, 2013, and having made a couple of public performance in October and over the Christmas period, they’ve been quick to rack up the on stage experience. Will they make the Semi-Final? Watch this space…

A Patella (University of Aberdeen) – Aberdeen’s all-medic group have been around for a while – they formed in November last year but did not take the chance to compete in last year’s competition. This year, however, they join the only other all-medic group, Oxford’s The Ultrasounds, in the competition and will be hoping to impress in their début year.

The Polyphonics (University of Warwick) – Warwick’s first group already has a slick website and some matching jackets, so if their singing is as solid as their organisational skills, they could well be dark horses going into the competition this year.

Durham University A Cappella Choir (University of Durham) – the originally named Durham University A Cappella Choir (are we calling them DUACC for short?) were founded only a couple of months ago, and will have their work cut out if they’re to progress to the Semi-Finals amongst such an illustrious cast of groups against them.

The Returnees:

Out of the Blue (University of Oxford) – the winners of the very first VF-UK competition back in 2009, Out of the Blue’s phenomenal record of making every final was dashed last year only due to their withdrawal from the competition. With the boys back to set the record straight, they will certainly be a name to watchgiven their previous pedigree in the competition.

Cadenza (University of Cambridge) – After two years away from the competition, Cadenza will be in the remarkable of being the only group in the competition to have won the competition the last time they competed. Cadenza won in 2011 and haven’t competed since. In a way, therefore, they will be defending their title, especially given the absence of reigning champions Vive (further information below).

HotTUBBS (University of Bristol) – After reaching the Final on their début performance in 2012, HotTUBBS chose not to compete last year due to other commitments. However, they’re back in force this year and will be hoping to do just as well second time around.

Notable Absences:
The Oxford Belles – VF-UK Finalists 2009
The Oxford Gargoyles – VF-UK Winners 2010; ICCA Finalists 2007
The Oxford Alternotives – VF-UK Finalists 2009, 2013
In The Pink – ICCA Semi-Finalists 2006
Fitz Barbershop – VF-UK Finalists 2010; ICCA Semi-Finalists 2006
The Fitz Sirens – VF-UK Finalists 2010
The Other Guys – VF-UK Finalists 2009, 2012
The Hummingbirds
The Augmentals
Vive – VF-UK Winners 2013
Aquapella

Verdict:

While the new format seems to have pleased some, there are a lot of absentees from the competition this year, some from groups that have been a staple in Voice Festival UK competition in past years. The Belles, Alternotives and In The Pink have joined the Gargoyles as Oxford withdrawals, while The Other Guys and The Hummingbirds have chosen not to continue their long-standing presence as part of the Scottish contingent. Even more poignant is the absence of the reigning champions Vive, who judging by their Facebook feeds, have taken their talents on to new projects. Other groups withdrawing from last year are Aquapella and The Augmentals, while groups like Fitz Barbershop and the Fitz Sirens will be absent for the second and third year running respectively.

That leaves us with three out of five former Champions – Out of the Blue, All the King’s Men and Cadenza – in this year’s competition, but judging by their latest album release and their performance at last year’s ICCAs, I would have The Sons of Pitches down as favourites – they’re just so unique and entertaining. That said, several groups could win it if their repertoire works: the new 8 minute video format will force groups to hone their sets and essentially cut a song, so it may well end up being the groups who can adapt to this new format (up until the semi-finals, of course) the best who reap the rewards.

Whatever happens, we’ll be present at the semis and the final in March next year to give you all the reviews and results as they happen, and all the build-up along the way. Get excited – VF-UK 2014 is just around the corner.

Best of British 2013: 6. Ode To Glasgow

The Best of British 2013 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live OR competitive debut since our last countdown commenced (Dec 2012 – Nov 2013)
b) A song that was featured on an album released since our last countdown commenced (Dec 2012 – Nov 2013)
Furthermore:
c) No tracks considered for last year’s countdown are eligible this year.
For example, although The Other Guys‘ Christmas was released in 2012, last year’s countdown started before the release of the album, so all the tracks on the album were eligible. On the flip side, although The Oxford Alternotives wowed with their rendition of Regina Spektor’s Samson at this year’s VF-UK, because it was released in album form in 2012, it was considered last year and therefore was ineligible this year.

The Process

We made a list of all the eligible songs from all the eligible groups, and then picked the top three tracks from each group, where possible. We then narrowed this shortlist down to 25, before picking our 10 favourite tracks. Opinions were divided, scores were combined, and in the end there was only one winner. But who will it be?

The countdown continues:

10. Semi-Toned – Knights of Cydonia
9. The Oxford Belles – This Is Titanium
8. The Alleycats – Dancing On My Own
7. The Oxford Alternotives – Lovely Day

6. Choral Stimulation – Ode To Glasgow

Award: ‘Outstanding Arrangement’ – Voice Festival UK 2013, St Andrews Regional

Staggering drunkenly into sixth place on our countdown is the hilarious, hugely varied and frankly wonderful ‘Ode To Glasgow’ from Glasgow’s only university group, Choral Stimulation. The song was part of the group’s award winning Voice Festival set earlier this year, and indeed went some way to helping the group to their first ever VF-UK Final. However, had the group not débuted the song in a small room at Glasgow University’s Students Union in preparation for the St Andrews Regional, the outcome may have been slightly different. “It didn’t go well,” admits David Ragg, MD of the group and arranger of their entire VF-UK 2013 set. However, some jokes were reworked and a few of the harmonies were tweaked, and the second public performance came on stage under the pressures of VF-UK competition, a performance which, according to Ragg, went “considerably better.”

The origins of the arrangement came about after the group for the first time decided to capitalise on their perception as ‘outsiders’ at the St Andrews Regional. “I had wanted to do a ‘super-medley’ for a long time,” said Ragg, “And we had been throwing about ideas in the group what this could be. We hit on Glasgow as a theme because we have, in the past few years, been the outside contender in St Andrews; we wanted to acknowledge and be proud of this. When I suggested it to a Glaswegian I was sat down and given a list of songs that HAD to be in there. It then evolved from others’ input into an Ode to Glasgow, with an overarching storyline to it that I hope can be seen in the finished thing.” Incorporating music from Love Actually, several Glasgow folk songs, Travis, the infamous ‘There’s been a murder’ line from Taggart, and even a solo for Ragg himself, the song really caught the imagination of the audience, although more so in St Andrews than at the Final in London.

“The final was an entirely different dynamic for the group,” said Ragg, “As well as being our first performance as a Final and outside Scotland, the audience was significantly smaller than the extremely popular Scottish Regional stage. Some of our Scottish humour may have fallen slightly short at times!” Despite the popularity of the song, it was not Ragg’s favourite from the groups’ setlist this year. “My favourite song would be ‘Feeling Bad’, the last song in our 2013 set. I had come up with an idea and came with it unfinished to the group. We then worked on it together as a group to make a funny and fairly silly song that has really grown on me. It is special as it is the first song I’ve co-written and I’m glad it came off so well.”

Despite this, Ragg understands why ‘Ode’ has become so highly regarded, and trumps the variety of the song, both in the arrangement, and also in the distribution of solos, as one of the main factors for its success. “We gave everyone in the group a solo to give everyone a chance; too often in a cappella, MDs, myself included, give the solos to a few good tenors or female voices because it is easier to write for these voices; in one way this was an exercise to help stop myself doing this, and I think audiences enjoy it because you get to see everyone in the group equally, and I think in our video you can see that we’re not taking ourselves too seriously and having a lot of fun.”

You can hear ‘Ode To Glasgow’, as well as the rest of the group’s Voice Festival UK 2013 right here. I’ve also been told that this track will feature on the group’s brand new EP – release date TBC!

So, only the top 5 remains. Who will be named the Best of British 2013? Stay tuned…

Album Review: Furplay

Furplay is a studio recording of The Alleycats' 2013 Voice Festival UK set.

Furplay is a studio recording of The Alleycats’ 2013 Voice Festival UK set.

If We’re Not Kitten, the Alleycats’ eighth studio album released last year, was the culmination of two significant litters’ worth of Alleycat, then the brief yet accomplished Furplay is perhaps a teaser of positive things to come from the new bunch. Despite its release last month, Furplay was recorded back in May while MD Brendan Macdonald was still at the helm; in a way, this album may also be seen as his final offering as creative head of a group into which he has poured so much.

The benefit of having such a short sample of the Alleycats’ 12/13 repertoire (indeed, a sample they felt worthy of making up their Voice Festival UK set earlier this year) is that each track is musically tight, diverse and shows off the best of what the group have to offer. There is no room for filler on an EP, and this works to the Alleycats’ advantage here.

The album opens with their ‘L.O.V.E. Mashup’, which incorporates What Is Love from Haddaway, Let Me Love You from Ne-Yo and Justin Bieber’s As Long As You Love Me. This is perhaps one of the most seamless mash-ups of the year, and is pulled off with aplomb by the entire group. What Is Love and As Long As You Love Me are smoothly and effortlessly worked into each other from the very beginning, and the strong start shows no signs of fading throughout the entire number. Ollie Hayes unleashes his gorgeous, smooth vocals on the Bieber section, which is far more pleasant to listen to than the original – as the new co-MD of the group, it seems they are in safe hands for the time being. The group capitalises on the anthemic nature of Bieber’s chorus by unleashing Hayes’ strong higher chest range and boosting it with some effective, if a little predictable, soprano harmonies. We only get a brief snippet of Ne-Yo, but once again, this addition is blended superbly with the other two numbers that it almost feels like one song rather than three – a hat tip to Brendan Macdonald for a superb, flowing and ultra-smooth arrangement which allowed the group to pull it off with such apparent ease.

The middle song, Robyn’s Dancing On My Own, has recently just reached number 8 on our countdown of the top 10 tracks of 2013, and sounds marvellous both live and on the album itself. The highlight is undoubtedly the solo from Ayanna Coleman, and, credit must go to Macdonald again, who doesn’t taint the talents of the soloist with too complex an arrangement, and expertly slows down the original, more dance-infused number into a more mellow ballad. The backing is so restrained that it washes over you with a calming sensation, and, for perhaps the first time in any Alleycat recording that I’ve listened to, it was very difficult to pick out any individual voice, such was the blend created throughout the number. (Credit is perhaps due to Matt Chinery and Liquid 5th, the production team on the album, for this). Coleman’s vocal performance is flawless throughout and brings that element of soul to the number which is inherent in any performance she gives. An enjoyable, pleasant and soothing middle number.

The final number, Shake It Out, led competently by Jill Wyman, Steph Bown and Tommy Rowe, is also fantastic, but for some reason I’m always left slightly underwhelmed after each listen. Don’t get me wrong, the trio of lead vocalists complement each others’ voices perfectly, and Rowe in particular on occasion has some compelling, refreshing and challenging harmonies, but the song doesn’t quite build to enough of a climax to make the journey through the song worthwhile. There doesn’t appear to be much range in volume: the group start loud and get slightly louder, and while the arrangement drops out in the more tender parts of the song, but the leads keep attacking the solo with the same energy and volume as before. The group also tend to use very similar vowel sounds in all their numbers, which can lead to this song almost verging into ‘going-through-the-motions’ territory. In spite of that, this is the number on the album which I enjoy listening to the most – it’s poppy, upbeat and conforms to much of what I love in a song – but I just feel with even just a small step a little further out of the group’s comfort zone, this track in particular could have turned a really good, solid number into an outstanding one.

If you like your a cappella easy on the ear and demonstrative of the array of talent inherent in this generation of The Alleycats, especially on lead vocals, then this is the album for you. It ticks all the boxes of a three-track a cappella EP – a flawless mash-up, a soulful and gloriously sung ballad, and a climactic clincher – but never gets close to thinking outside the box. The Alleycats have got classic contemporary a cappella sorted down to a tee – now’s the time to focus on pushing the boundaries a bit more.

Furplay is available to purchase and stream on Bandcamp and on the group’s official website.

Sons of Pitches Release Début EP

Not Too Shabby is the Sons' first ever studio release.

Not Too Shabby is the Sons’ first ever studio release.

One of the biggest groups in recent years, University of Birmingham’s Sons of Pitches, have (finally) released their début EP, entitled “Not Too Shabby”.

Recorded, Edited and Mixed by Eric Scholz and Carl Taylor at Liquid 5th Productions, the EP contains the group’s fantastic VF-UK Final set as well as Daft Punk’s Get Lucky.

From the small amount we’ve heard here, the album sounds pretty damn good, and is available here for the measly price of $4 (that’s roughly £2.50) – or more, if you feel that way inclined.

Keep your eyes open for a review over the Christmas period!