#Pentatonix #Acappella #Album #Review #New #KaitlinLembo #TheSpot518
Acappella power group Pentatonix released a new album on April 13, which brought 11 new covers from the band. The three-time Grammy winners took on the task of covering popular artists including Ed Sheeran, Luis Fonsi, Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa and Camila Cabello.
Perhaps the most noticeable part of this release is the absence of former member Avi Kaplan, the basso profundo who was part of the core five when the band shot to stardom during season three of “The Sing Off.” When he departed the group at the end of 2017 for personal reasons, many fans were skeptical whether the band would actually find a suitable replacement for Kaplan, who was a huge part of Pentatonix’s song-writing team.
Pentatonix has since brought on Matt Sallee, a fixture in the a cappella community who has a low voice, a rich tone and a big personality to match the silliness of the group’s four other members. Sallee, a graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, is known for his work in its world renowned a cappella group Pitch Slapped. Sallee became a temporary member of Pentatonix last winter for the holiday season, and was made a permanent member earlier this year.
Sallee and the group’s four seasoned members—Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Kirstin Maldonado (known as kirstin in her solo endeavors), and Kevin “K.O.” Olusola—used “Top Pop” to mirror their 2017 release, “Classics,” which featured covers of seven classic songs, such as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a-ha’s one-hit wonder “Take On Me.” Now moving to pop, the group lent its voices to popular songs like spicy “Havana,” catchy “Despacito” and the feel-good hit “Finesse.”
The album has several shining stars. First is “Havana,” which is strongly led by Hoying. The cover will make you forget that it is indeed a cappella because of the full back-up vocals from the group; I found myself liking it more than Cabello’s original. Maldonado uses her impressive vocal range to provide fans with a more than superior substitution for Cabello’s voice. Olusola’s “trumpet” is absolutely fantastic and will remind you just how impressive and versatile this group is.
“New Rules/Are You That Somebody” is also a standout. This is the perfect song for someone going through a break-up or needing an anthem in her or his love life. The group manages to mash Dua Lipa and Aaliyah’s songs beautifully, having the lyrics play off of one another without it becoming boring or annoying. Personally, this is what makes the group unique in my eyes; its members are able to mash together songs and remix them in a way that actually flatters the lyrics and the overall beat. Sallee’s bass also comes to play in this song, making the beginning a real treat.
“Stay” is another a highlight of this album. Hoying leads the pack again on this song, originally performed by Zedd and Alessia Cara. I find it oddly reminiscent of “Take Me Home” from PTX’s original, self-titled album released in 2015. If you’ve ever listened to “Take Me Home,” you should hear the similarities between it and “Stay” when the beatboxing stops and the whole group is singing. It’s a truly beautiful song and the group skillfully uses its changes in tempo to its advantage.
In my honest opinion, the biggest disappointment on “Top Pop” was “Finesse.” To make a note here, the group covers the original Bruno Mars hit and not the remix with rap princess Cardi B. For me, this was a bit of a disappointment because Grassi has lent his vocals to rapping before (the group’s early cover of Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea’s hit “Problem” comes to mind). I was hoping to see some of that spunk come through for Grassi, arguably the group’s sassiest and feistiest member. Overall, I just found the song to be awkward; the arrangement for the chorus was either too high or just doesn’t work for this type of group. It was an utter disappointment too, because I had tweeted the group asking it to cover the song when I first found the Cardi remix about two months ago. While it’s not a bad song, and I will listen to it, I still found it to be the weakest link on the album.
Overall, I’m impressed with “Top Pop” and the group’s ability to belt out another solid set of covers. I don’t think this album tops “Classics,” but it’s a great album in its own right. The vocal growth that we’ve seen from the four original members, especially from Maldonado, is incredible to listen to. Maldonado is currently performing in “Kinky Boots” on Broadway and you can hear how strong and powerful her voice has become in the time since she has joined the group, and even since she joined the cast. If you’re looking to hear Maldonado in her prime, “Despacito/Shape of You” showcases her linguistic skills and how incredibly far she has come in this journey.
With Maldonado’s Broadway run ending next month and the group hitting the road for a national tour, I am looking forward to seeing them on August 22 at Saratoga Performing Arts Center and seeing these songs performed live.
“PTX Presents: Top Pop Vol. I” is available for download via iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. Physical CDs are available for purchase online or at your local music retailer.