Sing Off Season 4: Episode 3 Review

By: Brian Mangan

Check out my review of Episodes 1 and 2 by clicking here!

Episode 3

The first split episode, with only four groups performing.  The groups below have all already performed twice, so we’re getting a better idea of who they are.  I will post their grades below, along with the grade I gave them last time, along with a little more in-depth analysis of their performances.

Ten – Chain of Fools – B+ (last time: B+)

This performance also fell a little short, but for different reasons than last time.  First off, the beatboxer in this group held. it. down. for the group early on. The lead was phenomenal – one of the best performances we’ve heard in the show thus far.  However I didn’t love the arrangement.

I have a hard time putting my finger on Ten — I think ultimately it comes down to the fact that they have great voices, great style, great energy, but there is something I find lacking from the body. Ben is right, as always, and I think we’re making the same observation when he says there is something missing from “the band underneath.” I think Ten can still be great; but they need to do better at the “a cappella group” part of singing.  They overcame my concerns about lead vocals and cohesiveness – now they need to fill out an arrangement.

Acoustikats – Amazed – A+ (last time: A-)

These kids are legitimately amazing.  Goosebumps for the entire performance.  I don’t even know where to start. This performance served, in my opinion, to prove the Acoustikats’ range — having started the series with “Hey Ya” and “Blurred Lines” — and now they can slow it down and JUST KILL IT.

I’ve been surprised since Episode 1 to hear how reluctant people have been to embrace this group.  Is it because college a cappella is unfamiliar to people?  They proved, even in their fun, upbeat, frat, party performances that they have all the tools necessary — great bass, great percussion, great leads, smart arrangements, good choreography — so I was always a little bummed out to hear that people worried they might be a one-trick pony when it was apparent from the outset, to me at least, that they had it all.  I knew that they could do both (even if Jewel didn’t) so I’m glad they finally took the chance to prove it to the doubters.  

Shawn is right that they could have gone a little more with it but that’s not really a complaint so much as a stylistic choice.  Ben is on the money, as always, when he says this is a definitive performance from them to separate them from the hundreds of other all-male collegiate groups.

Street Corner Renaissance – Forget You – B (last time: B)

No discussion of Street Corner Renaissance and their success in the show can be had without a look to the Sing Off itself. What is it?  There isn’t really much of a guide:

Wikipedia calls it: The Sing-Off is an American television singing competition.
The Sing Off website says: The program showcases the country’s top a cappella groups performing popular songs in ways that viewers have never heard before.

Ultimately, the Sing Off itself is a weird competition.  It’s an a cappella singing competition which seems to take pride in bringing in groups from all genres; while at the same time gaming the system against groups that are unconventional.  The groups that have been successful thus far, NOTA, Committed, Pentatonix, the SoCals, Streetcorner Symphony, have all been a cappella groups in the typical contemporary sense, and have all been groups of people, older than college age but still young, whose lives are committed to singing in that contemporary scene.  Despite this, the Sing Off still brings in a token dancing group, a token ethnic group, a token barbershop group, despite the clear disadvantages they face compared to a dynamic contemporary powerhouse.

I personally am a fan of contemporary a cappella, college a cappella, barbershop, and all of those neat styles of unaccompanied singing – but because of the above, I cannot envision a group like Renaissance taking it all, except under extraordinary circumstances. (If you want to see an amazing barbershop performance from a prior Sing Off, check out Maxx Factor’s performance of Love Story. Although it’s a little out of my comfort zone, I honestly think that it’s probably one of the top 10 Sing Off performances ever. I kind of want to write an entire article about this song.  The dynamics are phenomenal, the emotion is phenomenal, and you can tell they’re getting the most out of four voices. Basically what I’m saying is I have a huge musical crush on all of those ladies. (See also, Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town, also a little better I think).

Renaissance has been great for what they do, but they don’t have enough people and are not dynamic enough to compete in this competition.  It’s not a knock on them as much as it is a knock on the format.  A group can be competitive with few members (Pentatonix had 5, Home Free is small, Filharmonic has 6) but those groups are tailored to the style, with a bass and a beatbox that can fill up space.  I think this is Renaissance’s last episode.

Filharmonic – One More Night – A (last time: A+)

Very very good performance again! It’s amazing what these guys can do with only six voices – compare the volume of that sound to Ten’s ten, and compare that to how much fuller they sound than Renaissance’s five. I did not love this song choice, but they did a very very good job mixing it up with different rhythms, dancing, and a key change.

Some people online said this Filharmonic’s best performance; I disagree.  I think Ben is right yet again — a good performance, but I thought they were great going in and didn’t need to change too much.  That said, One More Night was great and they showcased a lot of different skills yet again.

Elimination – Renaissance v. Filharmonics

Renaissance was fantastic in the elimination — in fact, it’s the best and most compelling I’ve heard them during this entire competition.  However, despite batting the Filharmonics almost to a tie, the outcome of this competition was pre-determined by their bodies of work up to this point.

After last episode, I had Filharmonics and Acoustikats in the Top 3, and Ten as a strong contender, with Street Corner Renaissance in danger.  Nothing has changed.  Looking forward to the next episode, we have Home Free (top 3), VoicePlay (strong) and two just hanging on in Element and Vocal Rush.  A little surprising that the Sing Off would put so many strong contenders in Episode 3 while leaving Episode 4 a little more barren, but it may be that the ladies of Element have a surprise in store for us (I hope!).

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Brian Mangan is an attorney living in New York City and a lifelong a cappella aficionado.  Brian sang in his college’s all-male a cappella group in college and has continued to sing in various a cappella groups ever since.

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