I’m not sure exactly what it is about the University of Pennsylvania that makes it such a hotbed of college a cappella talent, but the school has no less than three groups that have garnered some degree of national acclaim: Off the Beat, famous for their incredible recorded output, the Counterparts, famous for being the jumping-off point for John Legend (forgive my reductivity, UPenn-ers), and this group, the Penny Loafers. The Penny Loafers, for their part, have always displayed more rough edges than the other two groups, particularly in their studio output, and their latest album Side A is no exception. Admittedly, the rough edges give the Penny Loafers’ output much of its appeal—even as they obviously know their way around a studio (witness the gated, distorted vocal guitar backing up the opening cover of Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”), most of these songs have a driving, live sound to them. Unfortunately, a little more studio polish might have helped, as tuning issues on the first section of Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” and Coldplay’s “Warning Sign” (the soloist for which, Andrew Dalzell, still makes a welcome replacement for Chris Martin) distract from the overall product. Still, you have to admire the moxie required to take on songs by The Postal Service and The Strokes, despite the misguided decision to include a pointlessly profane take on “The Rainbow Connection” as a secret track. In the end, Side A isn’t impressive enough to deflect the attention from the other Pennsylvania groups, but it’s not bad, and will be a fabulous little yearbook for the group’s existing campus-wide fanbase.
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