Then it occurred to me that not a whole lot of people would understand what I mean when I refer to A Cappella Rock (which I'm going to abbreviate ACR, as I will likely be using the term frequently in these advertisements).
ACR is characterized in my mind by being a cappella (no instruments), and by having one or both of the following:
1: A (or some) vocal percussionist(s). Think Rockapella here - a guy or gal who can make drum sounds using his/her voice, mouth, throat, etc. Usually a little bit more extensive than your standard guy-at-a-party-pretending-to-scratch-the-b
2: A cover of a song that would have been listened to on the radio by teens and/or young adults sometime between the '70s and today. YMCA can count, as can Uninvited or Mummer's Dance. But I generally think of this category as the KLOS through KROQ type music. Dream On, etc.
Where I buy most of my ACR: Mainely A Cappella.
I was somewhat into this style of music when I became aware of Rockapella, but they just kinda seemed like a novelty to me at the time. Then Spiralmouth came around and I started to see some real talent in the field - more than just one group's worth, I mean. Then I saw the SoCal VoCals, and the world of ACR just opened up for me.
Let me show you what I mean.
Here's a couple of groups that I've gone so far as to purchase CDs from. I've got MP3s from other groups that I'll buy from later, but that's another post.
When I link, I'll try to link directly to audio clip pages, 'cause really, it's more about the music than anything else...
Hookslide is an amazing group. Admittedly, slightly better live than on CD, just for the value of being able to see that they aren't cheating - there really are only four of them, and they really do have five parts performing. Their bass is making very smooth bass lines, and simultaneously making drum sounds worthy of the drum solo they give him on stage. Their cover of Don't You Forget About Me is DEAD ON, and they've got a great sound even without the novelty value. Some great things on this album, but more important is their shows. Sadly, they're a Northern CA band, so I'll get to see them once every never or so.
University of Oregon On The Rocks actually put quite a bit of effort into their webpage, so I'm linking to the main site. I'd go Flash on this one.
Tyler Boeh is a vocal percussion GOD. This guy got on stage and did over 45 seconds of recorded rap, including sound effects, scratches, playing with the record speed and direction, and record scratches resulting in skips. Oh, did I say recorded? Sorry. Live. Solo. Just him making noises. I've never seen or heard anything like it. He alone makes their show worth the flight to Oregon (which sadly I haven't yet had time to do). Or go to the next ICCA semifinals at Stanford - that's where I saw them last year, and it's likely to be where I'll see them this year. (They did pretty well, getting to go to the finals at Radio City Music Hall in New York and garnering a third place overall standing there, with Tyler tying for first place vocal percussionist.) The group has an awesome sound, and a great attitude. Sadly, they don't really shine in their recording - Center of Attention is a great track, but the rest are fairly straight-laced. I'm hoping they come up with a second CD sometime in the relatively near future, and they'll let go of some of the studio-itis and just perform.
I got into +4db when I picked up the California Screamin' compilation and fell in love with their rendition of the XTC song, "Rook." Went to their website and fell in love with them again on the Sting song, "I Burn For You." Haven't seen them live, but want to. Their album has some great stuff like what I just mentioned, along with some fun jazz ("Cottontail" and "In a Mellotone" come to mind), and some just plain fun stuff ("Naughty Number Nine" from Schoolhouse Rock, and "Sesame Street Medley" are great fun). I recommend the CD, and I'll let you know on their live stuff.
I should probably mention Spiralmouth again. Great live, better on CD. Gabriel Mann is an all-around god in his songwriting, his band (the one that includes instruments), his producing.... The Spiralmouth CD is someplace that you'll hear his songs and him singing, though not on the same tracks. Their rendition of "Closer" actually makes me like the song, and I think their "Come Together" is one of the best versions I've ever heard. Every track is a keeper on this CD (covers and originals alike), I highly recommend it. Now if only they'd put on more concerts....
From there I can go in two directions, but I choose to bring you next to Sixth Wave. If you like jazz, these guys do it well. Their "Icarus" is my favorite track on the album (even though they cheat and use a shaker on it), but "Vincent" is beautiful, and they clearly have fun with themselves with songs like "Stay" (Oingo Boingo) and "Gimme That Wine". Their shows are inconsistent - I've seen them be GREAT, and I've seen them be mediocre. The album's very good though. What's the connection, you may ask? Produced by Gabe.
The other direction I could have taken you would be to the SoCal VoCals. They've recently become somewhat of a Gabriel Mann cover band, with I believe about seven GM tunes in their repetoire. Their other stuff is also very good, although I think I got into them at their peak - they were good enough that they had a wonderful gel, but hadn't yet gotten to the point they're at now where the individuals have kinda taken over. To rephrase, it used to feel like a great ensemble that featured very talented individuals in each song, now it feels kinda like a group of soloists vying for power. They're working on their fourth album and I'm looking forward to it, but without having heard that one I'd recommend sticking with their third, V3.
UCLA's Awaken A Cappella doesn't have a website that's been updated since March, so I won't bother linking to it. Well, I suppose it might be updated someday, and then I'll be sorry I didn't, so here ya go. Their latest Album (Pitch-Slapped) is OK with some highlights ("Walk Like An Egyptian", "Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps," and "The Ladder" are in constant rotation for me), but live is where these guys shine. They are getting a bigger and bigger crowd at their shows as word spreads, and it's obvious why. Strangely, their Christmas show is especially worthwhile. (A lot of religious music with some of their fun stuff mixed in, but they have a Hanukkah song I've never heard before or since but is so gorgeous I get teary eyed with the memory of the one time I heard it almost a year ago. They also do some other styles live that you don't get as much of on Pitch Slapped, and isn't done very well on their previous album (Co-Ed Naked Singing)). They did very well hosting last year's ICCA quarterfinals, but other than that and the XMas show I haven't had a chance to see them live. I would, of course, if only they'd keep me updated on when it was via a website.... (hint hint)
I'll leave you with one final group for today, Boyz Nite Out. This is one of those groups that pisses me off by having each of their albums be very strong. Doesn't that just suck? You can't say "They didn't really find their sound until this one, so you can skip the first two." All three of their albums are good. Now, it's true that their latest is the best and their first is the weakest, but they're all worthwhile. Dammit! Their sound check tracks are especially fun, and a great feature for their vocal percussionists. I haven't seen them live, but I hear they've got a show in Manteca on Saturday, October 26, so if you're in town... (Yeah, another Northern CA group. Haven't seen 'em live either. Discovered them through California Screamin' as well. Could be worse, though. Discovered Speedzoo -- another NorCal group -- through there as well. Love all the stuff of theirs I've heard. They don't have an album yet, and have no plans to put one out. Grrrrr.....)
Anyway, that's my ad for tonight. Hope you enjoy it. I'm gonna go crash and sleep now....