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The Stereotypes

Washington University in St. Louis

Tiebreaker (2013)

4.0

June 3, 2014

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 3.3
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 3.0
Tracks
1 Radioactive 3.7
2 Some Nights 4.0
3 Locked Out Of Heaven 4.0
4 Wayfaring Stranger 4.3

Recorded 2013
Total time: 14:28, 4 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Radioactive 4
2 Some Nights 4
3 Locked Out Of Heaven 4
4 Wayfaring Stranger 5

Such exuberance! Enough for an entire album, packed smartly into just four awesome tracks. The Stereotypes strike me as the kind of all-male group that has no problem drawing wall-to-wall crowds and gleeful ovations all semester long. They sing the trendy songs college kids love to hear and sing them like they mean it. The arrangements are smooth and strong, if not unique, so when you treat them with studio airbrushed precision and elaborate percussion they come out catchy. It may not become a perennial staple in your playlists, but if you're into today's top hits then Tiebreaker is the EP for you.

The arrangements are straightforward in a way that lets the backgrounds unleash their enthusiasm. Almost the entire album is a series of "oo"s, "ah"s, and "whoa"s that are performed softly for calm and suspense, then belted for rollicking power. The staccato "bop-bop"s in Locked Out Of Heaven and synthetic stutter starts in Radioactive provide just enough textural variety to keep the choral sound from ever getting too thick.

The percussion is the backbone that makes recordings pop. It's HUGE! And it's mixed loud and proud with the soloist, so there is never a doubt about when to tap your toe or bob your head. The driving marching-band snare in Some Nights and the chorus claps in Locked Out Of Heaven border on the absurd, but for the upbeat spiritedness of the songs you wouldn't want it any other way. The delicate high-hat work complements the blunt, growly throat bass in Radioactive, and the reverb on the snaps and "k-snare" sells the ambiance in Wayfaring Stranger. The sound engineers bring enough energy with the percussion that they can leave the voices unfiltered for a warm, wholesome blend.

What this resounding collection lacks is originality. I can't imagine there is a college campus in America without an a cappella cover of Some Nights. The falsetto pitch-corrected part is jarring in the version by fun., and rather than arrange something more tasteful, the Stereotypes simply plug in the same demeaning solo line. Radioactive and Locked Out Of Heaven are similarly overplayed songs that are hot today (or at least they were during the recording of Tiebreaker), but not the kind of classics you'll be missing a year from now. That leaves Wayfaring Stranger to stand the test of time, and fortunately for us the Stereotypes fill it with all the captivating emotion it deserves.

With Tiebreaker, the Stereotypes do what everybody else does really, really well. That just happens to include too much Top 40, too much reliance on dense percussion and backgrounds for pizzazz, and not enough soulful arrangements like Wayfaring Stranger. To score a "5", the Stereotypes just need to do their thing with more intricate arranging techniques of eclectic songs that haven't been exhausted by other groups. And keep doing it really, really well.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Radioactive 4
2 Some Nights 4
3 Locked Out Of Heaven 4
4 Wayfaring Stranger 5

With Tiebreaker, the Washington University Stereotypes offer a boisterous but stereotypical release. Tiebreaker panders to some of the most over-played songs of 2013 with Radioactive, Some Nights, and Locked Out Of Heaven. All of these have been covered excessively, but also more effectively than the tracks presented with TiebreakerRadioactive by the G-Men, Some Nights by the Pitchforks, and Locked Out Of Heaven by Musae (or even the Octopodes) are just a few that come to mind.

Wayfaring Stranger is a complete change of character following the upbeat nature of Locked Out Of Heaven, a welcome and necessary break from the glut of mid-tempo tracks that precede it. Clever and intricate arranging by Leo Chang combined with a talented solo performance by Jason Unger makes it different enough while staying true to the original.

I hope that with their next release, the Stereotypes will focus on what what sets them apart from the hundreds of stereotypical all-male a cappella groups: their sound (especially their tenor section — good Lord)! The Stereotypes' sound is energized and full-bodied to the point that, at times, it's too much. For a majority of the EP, the sound doesn't vary much in terms of volume, texture, and density; it just alternates between loud and too loud.

The Stereotypes may have broken the tie, but did they really come out ahead in the game of a cappella? This album is by no means poor; it's actually quite impressive, but it's one that we've all heard before. If the Stereotypes find a setlist and/or arrangements that are less stereotypical of a cappella and hone in their energy, I guarantee it will take their next album from "good" to "excellent".


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Radioactive 3
2 Some Nights 4
3 Locked Out Of Heaven 4
4 Wayfaring Stranger 3

Tiebreaker, Tiebreaker...too small to get a feel for the scope of the Stereotypes' talent, but long enough to tell you what they're about: energetic singing and flashy talent. The guys go at it like they're playing to a full house at Madison Square Garden, and they want the whole crowd on board.

I do wish they had greater diversity in song choices. While Wayfaring Stranger reaches back to 2007 (listed as the Jamie Woon cover), the others are current uptempo pump- up hits. Of course, with this arrangement, even Wayfaring Stranger is a pump-up type, making it seem that this EP was based on Barney Stinson's mix tape advice: all rise, no fall.

The soloists on this EP are what make it worthwhile. Jonathan Loewy opens it with a rollicking Radioactive, and Jason Unger has a nice runthough on Wayfaring. Saying that Unger has the weakest lead is not to criticize him as much as praise the level of his compatriots, which is almost unbelievable. Tripp Wickersham is exceptional on Some Nights, not only capturing Nate Ruess' intended energy, but taking it into his instrument and demonstrating rock-star talent and perfect pop diction. Yet Marcus Brown is the standout soloist here, absolutely owning his high notes and improvisations on Locked Out Of Heaven, going so far as to riff (with ease) higher than Bruno Mars with twice the control and all of the vocal presence. To the lot of you: well done indeed.

Now, let's talk about the weird things. The editing is rather heavy-handed. The octavizer is way too obvious, and as far as I can tell the basses don't need it. The amount of synthesizing on Radioactive makes all the actual voices sound like an afterthought. The percussion is in the same boat as the basses; it's too obviously altered for my taste.

Overall, the dynamics are not great. There's a nice sforzando in Locked around "testify", but other than that everything starts loud and gets louder, turning it shouty.

The arrangements themselves are...odd. They all function, but some of the ideas they have simply do not work. I can't figure out a reason to have the key change at the end of Radioactive, other than to have Loewy sing higher. The bass line is counterintuitive in Some Nights, standing out unflatteringly at just the wrong moments. Wayfaring tries to push the energy too much on a song that is an emotional folk ballad. The added deep bass part is particularly jarring; it not only dominates the sound, but doesn't belong in the chord progression. There some nice transitions, with some great chords scattered throughout, though the "eh" vowel messes with the tuning.

There's a lot of nice work on this EP, and the group has a strong foundation on which to build. The fine-tuning is what will make the group's future albums shine.


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Ordering Information

Find the Stereotypes on iTunes, or contact bm@thestereotypes.org to order a physical Dropcard.

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