Few artists in the mainstream are able to innovate on the generic pop formula. You’ve got your Lady Gagas, who constantly reinvent themselves, your Ed Sheerans, who intertwine vivid storytelling into their songs and your Dua Lipas, who capitalize on genre nostalgia.
Then there’s Pentatonix.
I feel like people only really know them for their holiday material. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll gladly blast their cover of, “Mary Did You Know?” like the next guy come Christmas time, but their talents go much deeper than that.
The Grammy award-winning ensemble gave us a taste of their true talents back in 2015, when they released their self-titled album. This project consisted of (mostly) original music. For standard instrumental music, production is hard enough. It takes a lot to know how to build a good song from the ground up — what instruments to use, how to arrange them, etc.
Being an acapella group, they must take that further by figuring out how to replicate those sounds with their voices alone.
And the fact that they can do that and still create coherent and iconic songs?
Stop. Don’t talk to me.
Their newest project, "The Lucky Ones," is their second original music album. This project dutifully takes their strengths displayed on their first original album and cranks it up to a 10. Rather than sing about young love, the now-grown band keeps a consistent lyrical through line of mental health, self-reflection and maturation.
As summed up in the closing title track, this album is Pentatonix coming full circle.
It’s not just the lyrical maturation that’s impressive. The band is exceptional at creating deep melodic arrangements. Major props goes to the band’s beatboxer Kevin Olusola. He carries the group with his varied beats.
Along with the well thought out harmonies, the producers on this record also threw in very light touches of traditional instrumentation on this record: the faint synth, the quiet cymbal roll. It takes a careful ear to pick up, but its presence doesn’t take away from the experience. Rather, it adds a gentle depth.
The occasional vocal effects also are a nice touch.
Highlights on this record include the regal bop “Be My Eyes,” the vulnerable, swooning ballad, “Exit Signs,” and the pensive, powerful closing track, “The Lucky Ones.”
My only gripe with this project is that it doesn’t go deeper. Much of the tracks detail a mature darkness within the stories. However, I feel like it could touch more on issues like depression or personal traumas, rather than just insecurities in oneself or relationships. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing, considering the current happenings of the world.
Pentatonix takes the pop formula and sprinkles a little magic on it. Aside from the occasional weak track and need for more emotional depth, "The Lucky Ones" cements the acapella ensemble as more than just a cover-band.
They’re a cornerstone in our contemporary music lexicon — versatile, talented and steadfast.