I'd like to make a few comments about this record, RARB's review of same, and about the group in general.
First things first: a hearty congratulations to OOTB for putting out "Flywheel" - the culmination of years of growth, hard work, and synergy. Joseph Bates and I have been working with OOTB since 2003, and at least for myself, there has been no greater satisfaction in my brief career than that which I found in working with this group over the years. I would guess that Joseph might say the same.
Over these many years and over the course of 4 albums, the ladies of Duke OOTB have evolved into what I (subjectively) feel is currently perhaps the most complete - and self sufficient - all female scholastic a cappella group in the land. A few other groups come close and are awesome in their own way (Divisi comes to mind, as do a few others) but In my personal experience, no other group has shown the steady, exponential upward curve of growth that OOTB has (keep in mind that I work with scores of femappella groups (and I love them all!), and that I went to UNC, so this statement requires a lot of thought before being made!).
As recently as the former half of their previous CARA-winning CD ("Red"), we helped them with nearly every arrangement, and had to coach most of the "soul" out of the singers when it was time to record. For "Flywheel", I'm happy to say the ladies have all but cut the cord in these areas. Of course we (Joseph, Ed, Evan, and myself) still apply plenty of TLC in post production, but when OOTB comes to the studio now, they are fully prepared every time to a woman - a true rarity - and have put much thought and preparation into their approach to not only each individual song, but to the album as a whole. Not to mention they need almost no coaching during tracking; what you hear is what they have sung - an even greater rarity. It's nothing short of remarkable to be a part of, to be honest.
And so it has been a terrific experience, to watch the group receive so much favorable acclaim for their efforts, especially with the last 2 records, and most especially with "Flywheel". I've been thrilled for the ladies, when listening to Mouth Off's review of the CD, or when reading the results of the CARAs, and the recent RARB reviews. Every group "works hard", but IMO these ladies have redefined the standard for this, and as such they fully deserve all fruits of their labor.
If you can't tell, I'm pretty fond of them. So's my wife, who has to listen to nearly every aca track I work on at some point, whether she wants to or not. This is one CD she asked for her own real copy of :)
In my quite-subjective-but-decently-well-informed opinion, "Flywheel" is not perfect, but it is perhaps the "best" collegiate female aca CD I have ever heard. And to echo and build on what Catherine said, it's one of the "best" collegiate albums I've heard (or been a part of), independent of sex.
So all of this said, let's talk about the reviews. I appreciate the time and effort spent by the RARB reviewers in crafting their reviews of "Flywheel". I think they largely hit the nails on their collective heads (as usual). I haven't spoken with the ladies about the reviews, but I'm sure they appreciate them as well, and will take the criticism and praise equally in stride as we continue to work on their next project (half of which will be mixed in about a month!).
I thought it was interesting that Robert called the album "a little long" at 13 tracks (and Brian made a similar comment). I partly agree with them, I suppose. But it makes me wonder (given that 12ish songs is pretty much the "standard" for an album) if we're shifting more and more away from the idea of the album, towards the EP (and ultimately the single only) model?
The reviewers also commented on song selection/pacing/style of songs, and I can appreciate what they're saying - aside from a couple of scorchers, the albums songs fall largely in the "sultry" and/or "emotional" vein. I happen to be an emo bitch at heart, so that works for me. I can see how it might not, for others.
I did take issue with a few of Brian Haverkate's opinions, and - though I don't give RARB's scores all that much weight generally - with his scoring, especially as compared to the general body of a recorded cappella. I spoke with Ben Stevens about this and he attempted to get some further explanation from Brian. I'm not sure how that discussion went, but I'd like to make a few observations as well as ask a few questions of Brian, and other RARBers (and of anyone who has an opinion):
brian haverkate wrote:OOTB's arrangements aren't overly interesting when taken at face value, but the girls really make the most out of what they've been given and are very musical, crafting an artistic sound from start to finish.
With respect, this is as baffling as anything I've read in a RARB review. To whom/what group are you comparing their arrangements, Brian? To my biased ears (but not only mine - even Julia Hoffman, who famously hates almost all female a cappella, has agreed, not to mention all of the CARA voters, Mouth Off, etc), these are not only on par with the best in the genre, but in some cases *are* among the best I have heard. Certainly for all female collegiate aca, if not beyond that. What's your yardstick here, I suppose is what I'd want to know.
brian haverkate wrote:Out of the Blue is skilled at many styles, and while that's impressive, it might be even more impressive to take a specific style and just wow us in it from beginning to end.
What other groups do this, Brian? Assuming none or nearly none (as I am), what bearing can this have on your scoring (I can see how it fits in a review)?
brian haverkate wrote:Innovation/creativity: 3
I can take issue with a number of the scores you assigned (tuning is nigh perfect, if nothing else), but this one, again, leaves me simply baffled. To what/whom are are you comparing this album? What rubric are you using?
I realize this probably comes across as defensive, but understand that I have nothing to gain here - I've already gained it by being able to work with the group, to say nothing of whatever accolades blah blah - but I am troubled by what I view as a review (and scoring) that would appear to be incongruous with RARB's stated rubric.
This isn't the first time it has happened - some reviewers do it frequently, in fact. But in this case, with all that went into this record, and given the general body of a recorded cappella (and specifically collegiate female a cappella, if we must be specific) as your baseline, I can't help but feel the mark was missed here, to a degree that requires the scoring to be re-examined, if nothing else. The last (only?) 5 given by RARB for a female group was for TakeNote's "Now That We Have Your Attention". Given that I also worked on that record, and given that this was in 2006, I feel ok in saying that "Flywheel" is a better CD by any measurement. Heck if you're asking me, "Flywheel" is better (by any of RARB's 7 measurements) than all but a few collegiate CDs I've been a part of...a few of which received 5s (again, I feel ok in saying that, since the bias exists in each case). What does that mean? Maybe nothing, I don't know.
I wonder about the accuracy of these ratings, given RARB's own rubric, but more than that I guess I wonder at the message being sent here. Are we comparing this CD to Firedrill's latest? Or to the Clef Hanger's latest? To Sing V? To Divisi? Again, this has happened with other terrific albums ("Escape Velocity" comes to mind, as does "Disconcert"), so there's precedent for groups making an amazing CD that wins every award but doesn't manage a 5 from one RARB reviewer. This isn't the end of the world. But it is...as I said...somewhat baffling.
Ok, have to get back to work before John He has an aneurysm. Thanks for listening, and feel free (anyone) to chime in. I'm impossibly biased, so it'd be good to hear from others who may be less so.