When thinking of popular music styles, a capella does not usually come to mind. However, Grammy award-winning a capella group Pentatonix has set out to change this. The group consists of five members: baritone Scott Hoying, tenor Mitch Grassi, soprano Kirstin Maldonado, bass Avi Kaplan, and vocal percussionist Kevin Olusola. The vocalists met in 2011 before the auditions for the third season of NBC’s The Sing-Off. The underdogs demonstrated a significant amount of talent and potential, and won the season as a result, gaining popularity.
However, even after their win, Pentatonix still had a long way to go. Youtube proved to be the perfect way for the group to gain a following — their Youtube channel PTXofficial currently has over nine million subscribers and over one billion views. They frequently post music videos, including ones for songs featured in their latest album. With an enormous Youtube fanbase, Pentatonix has sold over two million of their previous five albums in the U.S. alone.
Their newest album, released on October 16, 2015, is simply titled Pentatonix. It features their original new single “Can’t Sleep Love” as well as a large variety of song covers.
Pentatonix has continued to push the limits of the human voice, as well as the limits of societal expectations. Knowing that every sound is done almost entirely by their voices is impressive; listening to their music is breathtaking when considering how their mouths match the quality achieved by machines. Though a capella is traditionally a musical outsider, they have broken the stereotypes by catching the world’s interest, making the genre more mainstream. The percussionist, Kevin, sounds identical to actual snares and drums, adding a level of wonder to the already astonishing vocal feats. You have to see him perform in person to believe the sounds actually come from his mouth.
Pentatonix’s strict voice-only policy with minimal added effects has led to another successful album. The songs all feel pleasant to listen to; one benefit of their style is that there are no obnoxious effects added by computers. Often times, pop music drowns out the singers’ voices under large amounts of editing. Pentatonix breaks the mold by allowing listeners to hear the talent and true tone of their vocalists, and consequently, their music feels fresh and organic.
Pentatonix’s covers benefit as a result. They challenge themselves to find creative ways to compensate for the lack of instruments, coming up with original arrangements that have helped them make a name for themselves as well as change the face of a capella.
In their cover of “Where Are Ü Now,” Pentatonix manages to capture the rhythm and essence of the electronic portion originally done by Skrillex. Mitch takes the lead for the majority of the song, and Scott comes in at certain points to add variety. One of the reasons this song is successful is the recognizability and addictiveness of the melody, encouraging the listener to hit “replay” over and over.
Pentatonix has also included their cover of Cheerleader, a song that is currently surging in popularity. The group’s natural ability to bring popular songs to the a cappella world truly shines when listening to this cover. Mitch mimics the powerful intro originally featuring a trumpet with strong intonation, proving that instruments are not required in order to include segments of brass. The song feels more relaxed and easier on the ears; it is an interesting take on a typically fast-paced and synthetic genre of music. A great and original build-up with overlapping harmonies helps to increase the enjoyment.
The passion and energy of Pentatonix clearly shows in certain songs, such as “Sing” and “Lean On.” They are some of the most vibrant in the album, and help to mix up the more mellow feel of the album. The rhythm and overall fast-paced speed of both enthrall the listener from beginning to end. Pentatonix keeps the two songs interesting by changing this pace before the climax of the songs — “Sing” escalates by including a segment of rap and “Lean On” builds tension by briefly slowing down and lowering the volume.
However, some of the songs in the album tend to come across as subdued. The vivid energy and enthusiasm captured in some of their previous songs, such as “La La Latch” and “Daft Punk” are not as present throughout the album. A striking difference is that some of the new songs, such as “Misbehavin’,” and “Take Me Home” lack significant build-ups leading to climaxes, decreasing the overall enjoyment. None of the songs are bad, but the album could benefit from some additional intensity.
Overall, the album is great, but lacking in some aspects. Any fans of a capella and especially any Pentaholics (hardcore Pentatonix fans) should pick this album up immediately, as well as those looking to try something new or those overwhelmed by the use of electronics in pop music. One thing is certain: We can expect Pentatonix to continue raising a cappella to new heights in the music industry.