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Pentatonix revamps tired hits with an a cappella twist in second album
Written by Adrienne Rube, Published Nov 17, 2013

“More of the same” is a phrase that Pentatonix most definitely does not understand. How lucky for their listeners, who as a result were treated to the unexpected and awe-inspiring sounds of the a capella group’s newest album, PTX Volume II, released Nov. 5.

The group, which consists of members Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola, has certainly lived up to the expectations it created for itself after winning Season Three of NBC’s The Sing-Off.

Upon their victory, the group released a debut album and Christmas EP, toured across the country and received millions of views on their YouTube channel.

And they’re not slowing down — this past week, Pentatonix performed their hit “Evolution of Beyoncé” medley on The Ellen Show and won the title of “Best Response Video” at the YouTube Music Awards for their collaboration of “Radioactive” with Lindsey Stirling.

PTX is taking the a capella world — and the entire music industry, for that matter — by storm. And, as one can imagine, PTX Vol. II is certainly no disappointment.

The album consists of nine tracks, which are a combination of covers and original songs that demonstrates PTX’s capacity for creating and executing innovative arrangements in what some see as the “cookie-cutter” genre of pop. The covers, particularly “I Need Your Love” and the mash-up “Save the World/Don’t You Worry Child,” are certain to attract new listeners and in fact confirm what fans have always adored about the group: namely, its ability to put a powerful twist on contemporary music, giving new life to radio singles that often get too old too quickly.

The title track, a cover of Ryan Lewis and Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us,” is a classic example. Exuding confidence and energy, it perfectly describes where the group came from (Mitch even gives a shoutout to Texas in his rap), capturing both the group’s rise to fame and its future potential.

If anything, this first cover sets the stage for the brilliance in the very next track, an original track titled “Natural Disaster.” Hoying’s edgy, dark vocals create this song’s drive, which is enforced by a raw, pulsing background that highlights the commanding rhythm section found in Kaplan’s vocal bass and Olusola’s percussion.

PTX continues to stretch their boundaries and to prove that they are capable of more than the covers for which they are known, as evidenced by two other originals on the album. One of these, “Love Again,” is a quintessential dance number rounded out by tight harmonies and a floating chorus melody, courtesy of Grassi.

The true gem of the entire album, however, is without a doubt “Run to You.” This original song is unlike anything Pentatonix has ever done, and it serves as further proof of the group’s expertise in musical curveballs. Its chord progressions, growing dynamics and reflective lyrics give movement to a poignant and pensive ballad that stands out from the rest of the more upbeat songs on the album. Reminiscent of a choral arrangement, the song is emotionally charged, revealing an internal battle that beautifully slips into dissonant harmonies and resolves at the perfect moments. Featuring all five of its members strictly on vocals, “Run to You” is thus a true testament to the very nature of a capella, reminding listeners to revel in the beauty of voices that speak for themselves — unaccompanied and unafraid of exposure.

Throughout the entire album, the vocalists shine, especially in the slower songs like Jessie Ware-cover “Valentine.” Smooth and enticing, the vocalists seem to plead to their audience, an authenticity that is additionally apparent in a playfully original opening and conclusion.

PTX is inventive to the final song, as seen with the “Daft Punk” medley, which is one of the album’s final tracks. The medley, for which the group made a futuristic video that was released to coincide with their new album, displays the very best of Pentatonix, from the beginning’s clean, electric harmonies to the seamless transitions that occur throughout the song.

Additionally, listeners get a special treat in that the medley highlights the voices of both Maldonado as soprano and Kaplan as bass.

The album in its entirety is, in fact, a treat for both new listeners and “Pentaholics.”

Fans may be surprised at the artistic decisions of the group, but satisfyingly so. Nothing less is expected, after all, from the a capella group which, as people, musicians and performers, has already captured so many hearts.