Posted by: thebylog | January 3, 2005


The Recorded A Cappella Review Board (RARB) is a website that allows a cappella groups to send in their albums to be objectively and thoroughly reviewed, ostensibly by people that know something about a cappella music. A stated goal of RARB is to give the public honest insight into the merits of the submitted albums.

Honestly, I don’t know the size of RARB’s readership or the status they enjoy in the a cappella community, but several excellent and famous groups have submitted albums, including GLAD, The Bobs, The Swingle Singers, Rescue, and the Acoustix, so their opinion–though really and truly only their opinion–should be regarded with some degree of respect.

All you have to do to get reviewed by these folks is record an a cappella album and send, like, six of those albums to where they tell you. So, AHQ did–twice. The review system is set up so that three people independently review the album, and it is compiled at the end into a single review, complete with ratings of each song and five different technical categories.

We didn’t have real high hopes when we sent in Lookin’ Up to be reviewed. In fact, if I recall correctly TT had real questions with sending it in at all. But we did, and we were predictably skewered, particularly by one reviewer. He calls us “square,” says that much of the album consists of “facile melodies and cheesy lyrics,” and opines that we “utterly slaughter” those songs that happen to have good arrangements. Furthermore, we’re “completely devoid of soul and expression.” He criticizes our arranging, songs, solo voices–almost everything. The other reviewers were a bit more kind. One even liked us.

In my life in general, I’m rather sensitive to criticism. But with AHQ, that sensitivity threshold increases dramatically. Well, except for criticism of our latest album cover. That gets to me a little bit. But then, it’s sort of understandable. But regarding our singing, I don’t get bothered to a large degree when people tell us that our endings are too outlandish, they don’t like a certain song, or we just plain stink. In fact, I think those things are interesting, and in the case of RARB, many of the criticisms had their basis in fact.

When we recorded our latest album, it was a no-brainer to us to get it reviewed by RARB. We knew it was better than our last one, and we (some of us at least) were anxious to see what would come of the second go-around. TT wasn’t impressed when he saw that one of our reviewers was the same one who blasted us last time. He wasn’t expecting very good scores, though I had hopes of good scores. Or at least I was confident that it would be better than last time.

And the Purpose review was better. Much better. Our basher became our fan. The worst thing anyone said about us is that we were bland. Well, except for the comments on our religious presentation, which are very interesting in their own right.

I like RARB, and I don’t even mind that many of you folks reading this will surf on over and see how terrible we really are, though it would be interesting to hear if their reviews affect your opinion of our music in any way. Just don’t bash RARB, take it as informed opinion. These sorts of yardsticks are valuable to us, because most people that listen to us probably aren’t musically equipped to give an informed critique of our technical prowess, and for the ones that are, there is no forum set up in which that could happen. Besides that, being personally involved with a group makes it difficult to shoot straight with them.

So that’s RARB, a fascinating study in opinion and honesty.



  1. Sorry, don’t agree. I still say that it is valuable to the artist, NOT the general public!


  2. Well, I’ll not enter the argument about whether RARB has any value to the public, but having just read the two reviews, I did find them fascinating reading. The first review contained some rather stinging and sarcastic use of words that, viewed from the outside, were rather funny. I guess that makes the point that funny is not necesarily right or good in the context of relationships. The guy probably could have made his point just as well with less stinging (and perhaps less funny) words. Anyway, good work, AHQ. Miss

  3. Now that was extremely interesting! After reading the reviews of Lookin’ Up, my thoughts were, “my word, I had no idea you guys were living under something like that — that is like some major exposure and uncomfortable criticism, or what?!!” Then when I read the reviews of Purpose I came out feeling, yeah, like you were less blasted, but still enough criticism to make you feel one of two ways, probably — 1) if you can’t handle it, it’d shut you up, 2) or else, it must about drive you crazy that you can’t try again and go for album #6 to see what improvements you could make this time! What would you say was the biggest thing that changed from album #4 to #5? What influenced the difference? What would you do on #6 if you had the chance?

    The one thing that really stands out to me — those reviewers have, like, EARS and know their stuff. My brothers could do a lot better than me, but my ear’s just not that good.

    Speaking of brothers, for the interest of Tom, By, and Merry here, Benj just left for SMBI today — they’ve drafted him to be Urie’s right hand man this term, and then take the choir on tour instead of Urie!! Benj just found out about it yesterday… They’d asked Joe earlier, but he couldn’t do it. Partly b/c he’s coming to see me. 🙂


  4. Hey, I’m thinking maybe VOP should try this out. Hear that Ben? “Hello, Ben? You stop by here on occasion. Ben?”

    Wow! Benji’ll have his hands full. How long was this in the works?

    So Crystal, you finally let slip a little news about Sir Joe. Great! I heard a few mutterings about such happenings.

  5. Well, one thing that they are COMPLETELY wrong about is repeat listenability!! Because I’m not sure what accapella music I WOULD listen to if they were right!!! It was interesting to read the reviews, though… A lot of my friends thought I was CRAZY for liking Looking Up, but they like Purpose. BTW, I kept meaning to say, another one of my friends asked me to hunt down a Purpose CD for her… So I’m needing one…. Please???

  6. Since By seems to think he is above acknowledging or responding to his comments anymore, I’ll step in and attempt to answer a few things. Ha ha!

    Crystal: After the shellacking we got on LU, the Purp review felt pretty good! Actually, the LU review was pretty decent too other than the shellacker. In fact, I pretty much agreed with almost everything the first reviewer (Sears) said about us.

    The biggest thing that changed I think was recording it ourselves. Doing it on our own schedule gave us the freedom to attend to things we previously had not been able to attend to. We were able to attain much tighter performances than we ever had before. We could do a lot more takes, and we had complete (and MUCH more powerful) mixdown and edit comtrol over everything.

    If we would have done #6, I think I would have pushed for a Christmas album. We definitely would have recorded it ourselves again, and I think we could have made some improvements in most areas. Would have been fun.

    But the point 2) you referred to, that happened after Lookin’ Up! It would have drove me crazy if we couldn’t have done Purpose.

    More random comments:

    Just remember (Lauren) when you boil it down, music reviews are really just (hopefully) educated opinions. Contradicting statements between reviewers reviewing the same projects are common. For example, Stotland used such phrases as “every word seems heartfelt” and “their honesty is special” and “heartfelt presentation” in her review of LU. Diamant came right after bluntly stating that “this disc is completely devoid of soul and expression.” You’ve got to leave room for reviewer opinion and preference, even though most of the rarb reviewers are pretty sharp.

    Somewhere in here I must respond to Diamant’s criticism of my “Over the Moon” arrangement. You’re full of it! The third is in the lead!

    That feels better.

    Send me an email Lauren.


  7. Thanks, Tom, for your kind attention. 🙂


    p.s. I loved your little blow-off there at the end.

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