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September 15, 2009

Rocking Indie Cappella: Sonos, 'SonoSings'

Washington Express (DC):

Indi Rock and a cappella sound like they wouldn't go well together: you're not likely to find covers of Sonic Youth or Hüsker Dü performed by your local college vocal group. But more and more non-mainstream artists are creeping into the college a cappella world, many of whom lend themselves particularly well to the all-vocal style: songs by Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird, Regina Spektor and Imogen Heap, for example, all sound great without instruments, and some groups have even taken it farther — there's a college group performing an a cappella version of Animal Collective's "Leaf House" on YouTube.

The Los Angeles vocal sextet Sonos has picked compositions for "SonoSings" (Verve Forecast) that are mostly in the folk/indie genre, but their selections really adapt beautifully to their style. Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal," for instance, relies on harmonies, and Sonos capitalize on that with a version that sounds like even more of a hippie-fest than the original (in a really good way). Meanwhile, group's cover of Radiohead's "Everything in Its Right Place" is haunting, and its take on Imogen Heap's "Come Here Boy" is as entrancing as a lullaby.

One super-mainstream song choice that's worth mentioning is Sara Bareilles' "Gravity." Bareilles even sings on the track — which may make it seem like shameless major-label publicity, but she's actually an alum of UCLA's coed a cappella group Awaken (as are several members of Sonos), and "Gravity" was first released on its 2003 album, "Dysfunktional Family Album." It's a reunion of sorts, and the song still sounds miles better a cappella than with instruments.

What really shows off the group's creativity, though, is their take on a song often covered in the college a cappella scene, the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back." Sonos's Christopher Given Harrison arranged a much more straightforward version for "Dysfunktional Family Album," but the version on SonoSings turns the song completely upside-down, taking the song's innocent take on young love and molding it into something far creepier. It's almost as though it's sung from the perspective of the person the media made Jackson out to be in his later years: desperate, isolated, and a little bit stalkerish. It's an outstanding re-working of an old classic, and it foreshadows additional compelling work to come from this group.

Posted by acapnews at September 15, 2009 12:00 AM

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