By Nick Erickson,Staff writer
In the modern music scene, it’s not often that a cappella groups break into mainstream success. The critically-acclaimed “Pitch Perfect” film series glorifies the talents of those groups, but there are simply not many out there drawing fame currently.
However the group Pentatonix, hailing from Arlington, Texas, is the exception to that rule, as they have been skyrocketing to stardom since 2011. Following up 2014’s “That’s Christmas To Me,” the quintet recently debuted their second holiday-themed album, “A Pentatonix Christmas.” While proving their talented vocal chops, the group falls short in their renditions of Christmas classics, leaving more to be desired.
It is well-known that a song performed in the a cappella style is stripped-down to merely vocalists. While the five members of Pentatonix often do a good job replicating what traditional instruments sound like, their covers of these Christmas songs are lacking the substance that previous cover artists have brought.
The members of Pentatonix are undoubtedly talented vocalists. They compose their own song arrangements, use fitting vocal harmonies, bass lines and creative beatboxing. One might ask themselves while listening, however, would it be better if they were accompanied by real instruments?
Vocal percussionist Kevin Olusola makes proper use of his beatboxing abilities, almost always providing cymbal effects, but it still feels far from the effect a real drum-kit could give. His cymbal splash imitations on “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” is amusing but does not level-up with the gospel-choir vibes of the choruses. The beginning of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is a groovy take on the classic, but the rhythmic half of the vocal spectrum makes it feel less like a Christmas tune, and more like background music at a local Mexican restaurant.
Lead single “Hallelujah” is a stand-out track and a take on Leonard Cohen’s piano-driven classic. The grace of the original track’s piano now feels empty, instead relying solely on baritone lead Scott Hoying singing. This is partially compensated for after the addition of the harmonized layers of the other four singers that follow suit.
Where Pentatonix shines is when they compose new material. On top of the nine classic covers, the group has provided two original Christmas-themed compositions. “Good to Be Bad” is both equally festive and fun, and allows Kirstin Maldonado to show off her pipes.
“The Christmas Sing-Along” feels innovative and bouncy, with the driving vocal backbeat and additional claps working in their favor. These two originals, while in the same territory as the classic covers, feel more lively simply for the fact that the group has concocted fresh lyricism and an original holiday song, as opposed to additional covers of the same songs that have already been covered for decades.
While providing unique takes on some of the world’s favorite holiday hits, it’s not always executed as well as hoped. Pentatonix are at their best when they’re writing their own music. Maybe they should stick to their own cheery originals. Not conventional by any means, but it’s inventive and undeniably catchy.