PTX Volume 1 Review
I normally don’t do reviews. Especially for music. I am unqualified to do music reviews – the only instrument I play is the radio. But for Pentatonix, I’ll take a wild stab it it.
[Perhaps you are looking for my review of the new self-titled album (2015)? CLICK HERE!]
I normally don’t do reviews. Especially for music. I am unqualified to do music reviews – the only instrument I play is my iPod. But I keep waiting for the reviews to come in for PTX Volume 1 by Pentatonix, and they are just not coming in fast enough for me – So I’m doing my own review. Of course, it will wind up being a statement on lost youth, have some anecdote about my past, and probably not be much of a review at all. If you know my work already, this was probably expected, but I thought I should warn any fresh passer-by that Googled “Pentatonix review” as to what to expect. Im a humorist, not an editor of Rolling Stone.
Pentatonix burst onto the scene in the last season of The Sing-Off – an a cappella competition. That’s right, there’s no instruments. The Sing-Off itself should be applauded for even existing (which, unfortunately, it does not, anymore), and making a cappella cool – not just something that happens in a high school choir room, next to the drama department, around the corner from the chess club (which makes sure that they never meet at the same time as choir, because three of the tenors are in the chess club, as well).
In my eye, Pentatonix immediately stood out from the competition. Their arrangements sparkled. They took whatever song that they were given to perform and made it totally their own: building in their own hooks and theatrics over and above the original. There was an artistry and understanding of the theatricality of music, not just the music itself.
To illustrate my point, When I started my first corporate job (look, an anecdote!), it was creating training videos for a retail organization. I didn’t have the track record (as my predecessor did), but I had an understanding of how video worked, how to reach people, and the artistry of production. When I completed my first project, my boss asked if I had bought new equipment – it was THAT different from the guy who came before me. That was the difference that I saw in Pentatonix: They took a song they were given, and made you wonder if the original artist was kicking himself, wishing he had written it that way. It was THAT different.
Above, an overview of Pentatonix, and their interpretation of “Dog Days Are Over”
When I started rooting for them – I feared that they were doomed not to win. Whenever I watch a competition program like this, whoever I find interesting, talented or deserving NEVER wins. I’m like the talent show kiss of death. It seems, however, that not only was the show different, so was its audience: They also saw the uniqueness of Pentatonix, and Pentatonix took the top prize (I’d be curious to ask them someday to sing their swan song…).
Fast forward to a year later (ignoring the baseball game openings, basketball half-time shows, bunches of You Tube videos and promotion), and we now have the release of their first studio recording, PTX Volume 1. A seven (iTunes has a bonus track) song fun-fest that answers a very important question for me: As amazing as their pop and hip-hop reworkings are, what would their own compositions sound like?
Well, I must say that track 2-The Baddest Girl, and track 5-Show You How To Love, both original compositions, remind me of a modern, hip-hop variant of one of the classiest a cappella groups that I ever heard, Manhattan Transfer. Manhattan Transfer made jazz-standards their own, and their original works rocked (if I can actually use the term “rocked” for a jazz ensemble). I have a very similar experience and feel with the first work of Pentatonix. While the first recording plays it safe overall (more on that in just a moment), I see all the earmarks of a great group in the making.
I suppose that, at this point, A music reviewer runs song-by-song, talking about the pros and cons of each. I simply can’t do that – I really have no cons to relate to you. If PTX Volume 1 has one fault, it would be this: I would have liked to hear more of their original work. I understand, however, a record company wants to play it safe, as I mentioned above, and market wisely, putting the Pentatonix twists on known works up front to gain audience recognition. That’s just fine with me, as long as these extremely talented kids are allowed to stretch their musical wings more as they move forward.
In fact, if there is one real negative to this recording, it would be the fact that it is a recording. We are so used to hearing audio recordings, and taking effects for granted, that you might be tempted to think that Pentatonix just isn’t as good as they sound. I listened carefully, and believe that the quintet has nary an overdub to their name: this is not an effects-laiden over-produced series of special effects and sequencers, but the raw talent of five kids singing (and beat-boxing) as one, with a little reverb – ‘Cause recordings need reverb, or they sound like people singing in a closet. Trust me, you wouldn’t like the sound of people singing in a closet. R. Kelly didn’t actually sing any of Trapped In A Closet actually in a closet – it would have sounded terrible.
Above, the first official music video from PTX Volume 1: “Starships”
Did I use the word ‘kids’ while writing about Pentatonix? Oh, yes – kids. Three of them haven’t hit drinking age, yet. I believe they are twenty, now, so I don’t mean children, but, dang, there is so much future packed into this group that it makes me bang my head against my desk. I did a lot of cool things in my twenties, writing, performing – but never followed through. Like so many, I wound up playing it safe, getting a job, thinking “someday I’ll get back to this.” and waking up twenty-plus years later, realizing that ‘someday’ was going to be written on my tombstone (I did mention at the start that there would be something about lost youth, right?).
These guys have it all in front of them. They are tight, talented, educated and artists. They have presence, and know how to make a song work. Everyone has moments to shine in almost every track, and I really think they enjoy each other’s moment in the limelight. It all shows in this recording.
Click Here to check out PTX Volume 1, And get in on the ground floor of Pentatonix. It’s great stuff.