Reviewed by: R Brian Roser
You know that cool bit at the beginning of an acapella performance of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” when the voices do all the instruments for the intro? That’s this entire album. Roomful of Teeth, however, is not a barbershop quartet and there are no golden oldies to be had here. All of the music they perform has been been either written specifically for them or by the group itself. The music ranges from mildly annoying to frankly sublime; from guttural to celestial, using the full range of the human voice from high, to low, to grunting and panting.
Render is what I would call avant garde. Most things I think of as avant garde are synonymous with substances usually found swirling down Duchamp’s “Fountain.” Render, however is different. The album is certainly not for everyone, but there is something here everyone can agree is beautiful. The performers have pitch-perfect control of their voices. The tracks range in their sound from the strident in “Otherwise” to “Suonare’s” softer touch and finally, to “Beneath” with its other-worldly tones.
Roomful of Teeth was founded in 2009 by Brad Wells. It currently boasts nine members, including composer Caroline Shaw. Her “Partita for 8 Voices” won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for music, making her the youngest winner ever. The group also won a Grammy for “Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance”.
Render rates pretty high on my bizarre-o-meter. Their schtick seems like a bit of a gimmick, making me wonder if they have any staying power. How many songs can you do, using nothing but the human voice? The answer, of course is all of them, which makes me think maybe they have a point after all. I guess we’ll see, but in the meantime, their work is definitely worth checking out.