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The Loreleis

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Solstice (2020)

4.3

November 20, 2020

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.3
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 3.7
Tracks
1 Retrograde 4.3
2 Nina Cried Power 4.3
3 When the Party's Over 4.3
4 Still In Love 4.3
5 Lil Darlin 4.0
6 Alibi 4.0
7 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 4.0
8 Evergreen 4.0
9 Edge of Seventeen 3.3

Recorded 2018 – 2020
Total time: 33:49, 9 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Retrograde 5
2 Nina Cried Power 5
3 When the Party's Over 5
4 Still In Love 4
5 Lil Darlin 4
6 Alibi 4
7 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 4
8 Evergreen 5
9 Edge of Seventeen 4

In an era where live music is all but forbidden, I sure am happy to spin Solstice

Nothing else embodies the as-close-to-auditorium-seats-as-we'll-get quite as successfully as Retrograde. The sound is so balanced, crisp, energized, and forward, it's like a campus show where every voice is damn near perfect, with a vulnerable lead contrasted to accented backs. And I think to myself: if this is the plan for Solstice, I'm staying put. 

As the show rolls on with Nina Cried Power, the question becomes: is every lead going to be this divine? Soloist Olivia Dunn, with her hint of tenor coloring, is all power herself. The Loreleis have no trouble drumming up the kind of intensity and forward momentum needed to keep listeners engaged for every measure, every beat. If you're not chair dancing to this one, I assume it's because you've jumped to your feet.

Oh, how I adore the arrangement's building blocks in When the Party's Over. Those breathy "h" syllables punctuating the uneasy air, the nimble cascading runs, the swells; it all creates a lean-in-close atmosphere that's so easy to fall in love with. 

The Loreleis switch up Solstice after these first three hits to settle into a four-pack of swingy-jazz pieces. I marvel over how well each powerful lead fits into her role; great "casting" on this release, and one couldn't reasonably ask for an ounce more from any of the soloists top to bottom. Each of these four songs, neatly bundled back to back, are strongly and capably sung, but don't quite capture the same height of sonic interest from the production or arrangements that worked so well to open Solstice

Everything pops back into top form with Evergreen, a complete, beautiful piece with a refreshing vp framework. And while I love that the Loreleis chose to close with iconic Edge of Seventeen, I think they could have really scream-sung the hell out of it for the bravada it craves. It's a little polite for that famous white winged dove. 

Solstice gives us a soloist show unlike any I can recall on the collegiate circuit this year. The production offered from Pablo Vega, Ed Boyer, and Dave Sperandio showcases the highest levels of technical skill. Considering the obvious challenges of 2020, I'm thrilled the group still released new material; that Solstice is this good speaks to years of high personal standards from the Loreleis.

 


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Retrograde 4
2 Nina Cried Power 4
3 When the Party's Over 5
4 Still In Love 5
5 Lil Darlin 5
6 Alibi 4
7 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 5
8 Evergreen 4
9 Edge of Seventeen 3

The Loreleis couldn't have known about the pandemic when they picked songs for Solstice, but their version of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is an utterly perfect ballad to this time in our shared history that leaves all of us wondering when it might be safe to sing with our friends again. "Oh, I've finally decided my future lies / beyond the yellow brick road," soloist Karli Krasnipol sighs with wistful longing, capturing every singer's hope that we could just get on the other side of this already.

The interpretation of this song isn't original to the Loreleis (it's a cover of Sara Bareilles's cover), and this also isn't the first time the group has won me over with a cover-of-a-cover (Exhibit A: their version of the Civil Wars' cover of Billie Jean on 2018's Where The Secret Lies. Exhibit B: Crazy on 2016's Sincerely,.). But this heartbreakingly emotive song made me catch my breath unexpectedly in the middle of this album.

There are other lovely moments on SolsticeWhen the Party's Over has a beautifully measured performance, and the group doesn't shy away from silent pauses or quiet whispers in the arrangement (written by Marie McCoy). Soloist Aryana Bolourian carries the emotional heft on Lil Darlin, and the rotating soloists on Still In Love work together remarkably well.

There are a few moments on Solstice that are less successful: Alibi feels a bit repetitive, Nina Cried Power doesn't fit with the mood of the rest of the album, and while Edge of Seventeen has some cool moments in its arrangement, the execution lags and doesn't have the energy focus that the song calls for. Having heard so many of the Loreleis' recent albums, I know this group is at its most successful when the song selection all works in harmony with the group's voices and overall aesthetic. Solstice doesn't hit that mark with every song, but there's still more than enough here to capture and hold a listener's attention.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Retrograde 4
2 Nina Cried Power 4
3 When the Party's Over 3
4 Still In Love 4
5 Lil Darlin 3
6 Alibi 4
7 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 3
8 Evergreen 3
9 Edge of Seventeen 3

When last I wrote about the Loreleis, the women from the University of North Carolina presented an album that had some great moments, but they sometimes got lost in long tracks that seemed to drag on by the end. With Solstice, the Loreleis get another chance to prove their excellence. This album features shorter tracks that allow moments to be more frequent and more memorable. However, when all is said and done, there are many moments across the album that could be great, but seem to fall flat. 

The opening two numbers set a great tone for this album. It's clear from soloist Amy Smith's tone in Retrograde that one of the highlights of this album is going to be the emotional aspect. Smith also arranged this piece, and while I have reservations about some of the heavily rhythmic lines getting muddled in the bassline, the moments where the soloist is supported by open and resonant chords really shine. This is in juxtaposition to Nina Cried Power, where soloist Olivia Dunn delivers a dark and powerful solo that demands the audience's attention. It's easy to see that the Loreleis have plenty of ability and any member could step forward and deliver a great presentation full of emotion while displaying strong musicality.

However, once we start getting into the heart of the album, the luster wears off and the sound starts getting monotonous. When the Party's Over shows this. This Billie Eilish original has been a favorite with groups over the past year due to how simply it can be translated to a cappella. However, the rendition by the Loreleis has very little overall impact. The changes in dynamics are minimal, and leave me wanting far more impact than I'm hearing. This is further iterated in performances like Lil Darlin. This track perfectly captures a dark and sultry vibe in the opening moments, but the group remains at one dynamic for most of the track. Aryana Bolourian does some great vocal acrobatics as a soloist, but the soloist at times gets overpowered by the group because the ensemble is not fully aligned in how to let the soloist tell the story.

By the time we get to the end of Solstice, it feels more and more like I'm listening to the Loreleis of five to ten years ago. Make no mistake, the sound is good and there are no harsh notes that make me want to skip tracks. However, there is very little that's memorable about this album. This release sits at a point that I would say is above average in terms of musicality, but below average when it comes to direction and creativity in modern a cappella. It falls upon the group to find new ways to breathe their own life into the tracks and really deliver. Until that point, this album is a solid one to listen to, but not too much to write home about.

 


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