Mendicants Review

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Mendicants Review

Postby billhare » Mon Oct 11, 2004 9:58 am

Thanks to all of the reviewers for the great comments. I do need to take my friend Tom to task though, NOT because his scores were lower, but to correct a few factual errors.

Tom opens his review saying it's the Mendicants' fourth album. Where does this info come from? I think this is the 10th album that I'VE done for them, and they were already together for 25 years when I started with them in 1988. So there have been at least 30 albums since the first in 1964 or '65. I also feel that the Mendicants were partly responsible for the evolution of Collegiate A Cappella as we know it today. Independently of what was happening on the other coast, I think the 1991 "Just Like That" album was the first to use all individual mics, be produced in a "rock band" recording format, and even using some VP, which was almost unheard of in those days. Two other albums from the East Coast claim to be the first in 1991, but I think "JTL" came out a month or so earlier. Here I probably need to check my OWN facts, but I think I have it straight!

I'm always glad to be a reference for fact checking - I definitely don't want to bias a review, but if the facts aren't right the rest of the review loses a bit of credibility. Feel free (any reviewer) to email me (bill at dyz.com) if you need any factual information on any album you see my name on before you commit it to print. I don't care if you're trashing the album as much as whether your facts have basis.

As far as "taking your suggestions from the last review", this is not why the album sounds like it does. It's just a different group of singers, with a different focus on performance, different set of internal politics (a MAJOR factor on any collegiate album - get rid of the 16 different opinions and put one person in charge, and the album will not only be better, it will be cheaper!) Your comment from the last review also could have used some fact checking (from review # 354):

"This is a prime example of why you need adequate planning and budgeting when cutting a studio CD; whether the group ran out of time, or money, the difference in quality between the beginning and end of the album is disheartening."

As anyone who has made an album knows, you don't record the songs in the same order that they go on the album. In fact, most of the first half of the album was the last stuff to be recorded - so running out of time and/or money was not a factor. While this *may* have been a factor of the group "gaining their recording legs" over time, it probably only boils down to a happenstance that you didn't particularly like the second half of the album. The other reviewers didn't have the same perception, which of course doesn't mean that you are wrong and they are right, but making a blanket guess as to why this is happening is not the best way to go about writing a caveat for the community on how to plan albums.


Again, this is not to pick on Tom directly - this is for all reviewers. Tom is actually one of the more *realistic* scorers as far as numbers go in my mind. There are so many "3" albums out there gaining "4+" scores, and I appreciate and applaud his stinginess with the higher marks.

Lastly, singling out one singer as "atrocious" can be hurtful - on any given track on any album, what you might not know is that one singer put EVERYTHING he or she had into it, and took it very, very seriously. Professionals who have made it already can take this stuff (well, to more of a degree), but a collegiate singer may never open their mouth again, even if they have talent. In this particular example, there are 2 different soloists on that track, so luckily we'll never know which one you are talking about, but I think you can use a different word - I doubt many would use such a strong descriptor if they actually heard it. It is a little syrupy and choirboy sweet, but that's how it was intended - "atrocious"? I've heard much worse on much higher rated albums!

OK, 'nuff said from this end...

-B

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Postby bstevens » Mon Oct 11, 2004 11:36 am

Hi Bill,

Thanks for taking the time to correct some factual errors. One of the difficulties with reviewing in any medium is that the process behind the product may be opaque. Especially for reviewers whose musical skills are just that (i.e., not engineering expertise), what the album "sounds like" is what the review will (and should) be based on. Willingly open engineers/producers/studios like Bill('s) are not just informative for reviews (for which I thank you) but instructive for everyone invested in a cappella (on behalf of the 'stockholders', I thank you).

Another difficulty, and another reason I'm thrilled that the forum exists and is made such marvelous use of, is that many of RARB's reviewers, while deeply committed to the a cappella community, are young. 1991 may have seen a big step forward in a cappella recording, but it also may not have seen high school for some of our members (reviewers and otherwise). Bill and I are old enough to remember e.g. Mixed Company's "Unanimous"; but many are not. A cappella history is still mostly oral tradition, another reason to thank talkative elders (hm ... that may not have come out quite right).

Thanks again, Bill!

Benjamin Stevens

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Educational Officer for Festivals and Events

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Re: Mendicants Review

Postby nosugrefneb » Mon Oct 11, 2004 12:51 pm

billhare wrote:Tom is actually one of the more *realistic* scorers as far as numbers go in my mind. There are so many "3" albums out there gaining "4+" scores, and I appreciate and applaud his stinginess with the higher marks.


Yes. YES.

Tom=genius=Einstein.
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Re: Mendicant Review

Postby GrahamAD » Tue Oct 12, 2004 11:16 am

As a member of the Mendicants, I'd invite everyone to listen to a clip of "In My Life", from our website.

Either the small version: http://www.stanford.edu/group/mendicant ... Sample.mp3
Or the larger version: http://www.stanford.edu/group/mendicant ... Sample.mp3

While Tom has every right to state his opinion, I'd like to encourage readers of this review to listen to the clips at http://mendicants.stanford.edu and draw their own conclusions as to the atrocity of the solo. (NB: only one soloist is featured in the clip, as they split the verses)

Thanks to all the reviewers for their kind words and constructive criticism, and as always, thanks to Bill Hare for everything that he does.

Best,
Graham

------------------------------------
Stanford Mendicants 2001-2005
Ex-Director (2002-2003)
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Postby Nick Lyons » Tue Oct 12, 2004 5:35 pm

Solo... smooth. Some strain in the higher register but not much... and in a way it lends itself to the style. If I've found nothing else in reviews, I've found that the reviewers review the album that day at that time. If Tom were to review the album on a Tuesday at 5pm as opposed to a Saturday at noon, you may get a completely different review of an album.

The other thing I've found is that, you know your group better than anyone else does. If your group has phenomenal tuning and a reviewer says your group doesn't tune well, take it with a grain of salt. If they say your arrangements are boring and you know otherwise, again... grain of salt.

Just realize that this is a circle. If you submit your album, you don't necessarily expect to get a stellar review... HOWEVER, in return, the "community" shouldn't expect you to NOT respond, ESPECIALLY with incorrect information.

As an aside, I think Bill's post displays what the true point of reviews, albums, the community, etc is. The teacher in me looks to positive and negative reinforcement (haven't I posted about this before?). A "You may want to try..." statement, as opposed to any use of the word "atrocious," will most likely have a better affect... but as I have learned, every reviewer has his/her style(s). But please continually question your purpose as a reviewer as it relates to the growth of the a cappella community, and not just a multi-thousand dollar disc ;-)

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Postby brianhaverkate » Wed Oct 13, 2004 4:48 am

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!! I think Nick hit it right on the head. If everyone could just take an intro to teaching music class (or intro to teaching in general) we would have far less feelings hurt in reviews. As a teacher I have the ability to crush or encourage a student at almost any moment during the day (especially singers who have a more intimate relationship with their music due to the nature of the voice). I think we're all students of a cappella and singing in general, so it would go a long ways to re-word some things in the spirit of encouraging a better result next time, rather than tearing down and possibly preventing a next time from ever happening.
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Postby Tom C » Wed Oct 13, 2004 6:52 am

Hello all:

Thanks for the tips Bill. To respond (unfortunately I had a much better explanation but accidentally hit the back button on my browser and lost it, so this will have to be condensed):

1) About my comment this is their fourth album. I apologize for this mistake, and obviously Bill would know much better than I. I garnered this information from the Mendicants website, where on the albums page only four are listed, and I couldn't locate a full history.

2) About my use of the adjective "atrocious." I picked this word because I felt that the soloist in question had both a voice a) that was unpalatable to my ear and b) was in my opinion inappropriate for that particular song. These two items in synergy led me to my decision. I almost certainly wouldn't have used so strong a modifier had not both of these conditions been met; it was less a reflection on the soloist himself and more on the reflection of the album having that soloist in that particular place.
3) Finally, as a reviewer I am not privy to the process of making the album; this is across the board from inspiration, to group profiles and goals, to money and recording technique, to who chooses what and why it was chosen. I can comment only on the finished product I have in my hand. Further, for the majority of the RARB community who has little to no contact with the Mendicants directly, this is all they will know if they decide to purchase this album. I draw inferences when drafting a review; for instance there is no certainty I can have about whether there was a direct cause and effect relationship between my comments on "Best Laid Plans" and the results of "Mendication," yet I notice some consistency with my statements and mention this. Similarly I know that the schedule for recording an album doesn't reflect the final track order; to my ear it sounded like the weak tracks were all on the latter end of "Best Laid Plans." To me this could have meant a) it was pure coincidence and not intentional at all or b) the group knowingly frontloaded their better material, having made this decision prior to the recording process or after they heard the finished product, or anywhere in between. I can only judge from the finished product and chose b.

I agree wholeheartedly that you should take a listen for yourself and make your own decisions. I will willingly tell you that being a RARB reviewer gives me no more knowledge, and in many cases probably less, than the readership, but only gives me a soapbox upon which to expound my views.

My main goal is to try to be as honest as I can and hopefully give the group something to help make its next project better. I welcome critique, dissent, and especially correction of factual errors.
Thomas Czerwinski
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http://www.rarb.org/people/tom-czerwinski.html
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Postby tekay » Wed Oct 13, 2004 9:13 am

WareHauser wrote:As an aside, I think Bill's post displays what the true point of reviews, albums, the community, etc is. The teacher in me looks to positive and negative reinforcement (haven't I posted about this before?). A "You may want to try..." statement, as opposed to any use of the word "atrocious," will most likely have a better affect... but as I have learned, every reviewer has his/her style(s). But please continually question your purpose as a reviewer as it relates to the growth of the a cappella community, and not just a multi-thousand dollar disc ;-)

Nick


Actually, Nick...what you've described is not a "Reveiw," but a "Critique." We are not here on RARB to critique albums by giving positive and negative feedback to the group; that is for an educational summit/jam (plug plug plug). Neither our position nor purpose is to further or foster the "a cappella community" or "genre," but to give our opinion on a submitted recording.

I can choose to take my 200-500 words (avg.) and say one of three things: I loved it, I hated it or I'm ambivalent. That is the sole responsibility of a reviewer and seemingly at the core of what we try to accomplish in our postings.

[color=#8040BF]http://www.rarb.org/people/thomas-king.html http://www.deltacappella.com CASA Dir. of Ambassador Program SoJam Producer & Concert Mgr Sing Producer CAL jd All Things A Cappella FOTS #1 ICCA Producer Emeritus "the

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Postby seth » Wed Oct 13, 2004 11:43 am

tekay wrote:We are not here on RARB to critique albums by giving positive and negative feedback to the group; that is for an educational summit/jam (plug plug plug).


RARB has always had two explicit missions: give advice to people who might buy these albums, and give groups constructive feedback. I think giving positive and negative feedback fits pretty well with the second of those two goals. Encouraging the improvement of the genre or community is a consequence of encouraging the improvement of each specific group, and this is part of our mission.

And Tom, the point about the word "atrocious" was not that there no reason to use it, but that there was a reason not to use it. It was a point about tact, not accuracy. I can't tell from your response whether you understood this and were saying that you wouldn't use the word lightly, or whether you were simply defending yourself. The difference is in whether you acknowledge that harsh language has negative consequences that must be balanced against its benefit.
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Postby brianhaverkate » Wed Oct 13, 2004 1:01 pm

What's the difference between "review" and "critique" anyways? As per Webster's Online Dictionary: Review= a critical evaluation (as of a book or play). Critique= to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly : EVALUATE They seem to be one in the same to me. No where does it say how the critique or review should come across. I guess that is up to the person giving the review and reflects upon themself as a person. Truth be told, I believe the only negative aspect about RARB is the negative (harsh) wording by some reviewers to give opinions on why they didn't like an aspect of an album. Ever heard of "100 ways to say good job or very good"?? Check this out: http://www.kathyandcalvin.com/index.php ... od_job.htm
If there are that many ways to say good job, then there must be just as many or more ways to say the opposite. Yes, it is up to the reviewer to give us their opinion on the good the bad and the ugly, but I don't believe it needs to be done the way it is still occasionally done on RARB. Here's some more definitions we all might want to look over...

TACT= a keen sense of what to do or say in order to maintain good relations with others or avoid offense

PROFESSIONAL = exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace

ETIQUETTE = the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life

INTEGRITY = firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values

RESPECT = high or special regard


Still waiting for someone to create a new aca-review board/venue for feedback. .......wish I had the time. :(
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Postby seth » Wed Oct 13, 2004 1:14 pm

yahtzeealum wrote:I believe the only negative aspect about RARB is the negative (harsh) wording by some reviewers to give opinions on why they didn't like an aspect of an album.
...
Still waiting for someone to create a new aca-review board/venue for feedback.


Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Don't forget that we're looking for new reviewers, and feel free to post album reviews here in this forum.
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Postby aballard » Wed Oct 13, 2004 2:09 pm

yahtzeealum wrote:TACT, PROFESSIONAL, ETIQUETTE, INTEGRITY, RESPECT


Mix that up a bit…. So you get Tact, Respect, Integrity, Professionalism, Etiquette. Now make that into an acronym. And what are you left with?

TRIPE.

No offense – I just couldn’t resist. But why would the rest of us be interested on how group A or group B could improve, anyway? Generally never having heard the album under fire, it certainly doesn’t do me any good to read about how, oh, the EQ on the alto parts could stand to be a bit brighter on tracks 3-7. As an uninformed reader, that’s not the kind of stuff I come here for. Frankly, I’d rather hear about A) why this album kicks ass, and thus you should buy it, or B) why this album sucks ass, and thus you should avoid it like the plague.

I really don’t mean to undermine the suggestion that constructive criticism benefits groups, because that much is obvious. But I read these reviews to be entertained, and to become informed about what might be worth my purchasing dollars. So, if a reviewer really thinks that a soloist is “atrocious”, then I’d like to hear it. Spending five minutes of my time reading about how a particular soloist – one that I’ve never heard before and don’t know personally – might enhance his performance, does nothing for me as a discriminating consumer. Hearing that he just doesn’t have the chops? Now that helps me make that decision, and I might get a chuckle out of it, too. It also makes me a lot more interested in hearing it for myself.

I don’t mean to sound like an asshole, but, I have been known to be one from time to time. And I don’t think I should have to apologize for it – nor should the reviewers here at RARB. Give me a scathing critique that slings barbs, goes in for obvious digs, puns unashamedly, and takes groups to task for putting out a crappy product any day over one that tries to be nice, thereby destroying any ounce of the personality of the reviewer. Furthermore, reviews that deploy niceties around a product’s problems aren’t trustworthy to me: if something is wrong, tell me what it is, and be frank about it. For example: if you were trying to buy a vacuum cleaner based on consumer reports, which would better inform your decision: “The Sucks-a-Lot 2004 cleans dirt OK, but makes a noise akin to a million angry bees swarming about inside an 18-wheeler downshifting in the Eisenhower Tunnel: go with WhisperClean’s model instead”, or “I think the manufacturers of the Sucks-a-Lot need to focus more on the sonic output of their next product, by looking into bristle density, and perhaps exploring the effects of vacuum belts composed of composite materials.”

Maybe it’s an extremist, perhaps even a mean point of view, but if the album is really not that good, then at least the review could be entertaining.

That said, allow me to disclaim a bit by saying that I have a great deal of respect for the folks here at RARB, and I think they do a great job on all accounts. They write good reviews, and they tend to be constructive. It’s not something I could ever do, as I don’t really have much tolerance for recorded a cappella music (well, the contemporary/pop stuff that’s out there these days, anyway…. to my ear, pretty much all pop/cover a cappella falls into the Sucks Ass category, or at most is still too contrived to hold my interest). But, keeping up with this site definitely helped me hone in on how to make the recordings I worked on with the Aires better – if not to their ears, then definitely to mine.

I guess I just prefer a little more vinegar on my fries.
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Postby GenesisPhreak » Wed Oct 13, 2004 3:08 pm

odometer wrote: But why would the rest of us be interested on how group A or group B could improve, anyway?


actually i find reading the reviews quite helpful. when i was recroding with my old high school group I read lots of reviews to see what i could take into the studio with me to help make a better album.

ex. In the brown derbies review of the song break my stride one reviewer thought that the VP should go on past the bridge and go till the end, I loved the idea, and when we recorded the song I did just that.

my point is that we all have diffrent reasons for reading these posts. some for entertainment, others education.
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Postby billhare » Wed Oct 13, 2004 5:32 pm

odometer wrote: A) why this album kicks ass, and thus you should buy it, or B) why this album sucks ass, and thus you should avoid it like the plague.

odometer wrote:Give me a scathing critique that slings barbs, goes in for obvious digs, puns unashamedly, and takes groups to task for putting out a crappy product any day over one that tries to be nice, thereby destroying any ounce of the personality of the reviewer.

odometer wrote:Maybe it’s an extremist, perhaps even a mean point of view, but if the album is really not that good, then at least the review could be entertaining.


I agree, believe it or not. And the way you word it is correct - if a GROUP puts out a shabby product or an ALBUM sucks ass, I don't have a problem with spreading the pain of blame over the 5 to 20 people involved. But if everything else is generally OK, but then someone adds "except this one guy sucks ass on this one song", all of a sudden there's one person with a finger being pointed in his face publicly, and whether warranted or not, it's still much more damaging than being part of a group that is chastized. I wouldn't have minded even the use of "atrocious" had it been used in a context such as "I found a couple of the solos on this album atrocious" - might seem like a small difference to some, but would have made the same point without shining a spotlight on any particular individual. The Sucks-a-Lot 2004 scenario was fun, but it focuses on the whole product, so the designers, engineers, manufacturers, etc, all share the blame. To say that "assembly line dust bag installer Deke Sharon is the low point of this product" puts a lot of unneeded stress on an individual, and now he can't even show the Sucks-a-Lot 2004 review to his mom.

-B

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments. http://www.dyz.com

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Postby brianhaverkate » Thu Oct 14, 2004 5:01 am

ha ha ha ha ha.....Bill that was funny. :)

In response to Odometer's post about wanting to see bad albums trashed... *throws up arms* I don't think reviews should be entertaining or try to be smart and funny.....or punny. Reviews should describe what's going on in the recording. I don't care for the rest. It's obnoxious, annoying, not necessary, and boring. I feel like some reviewers don't have the knowledge regarding the music, so they try to overcompensate with rude and unthoughtful remarks which somehow are perceived as whitty banter. My middle school students are better behaved and are more respectful to each other than some RARB reviewers. One phrase sums up middle school behavior: "no filters on their mouths". ho hum.

The scoring system on RARB more than gives you adequete information regarding if an album is good or not.
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