Published Apr 28, 2015Roomful of Teeth could hardly have made a bigger splash with their 2012 eponymous debut album. The avant-garde a cappella project earned three GRAMMY nominations for that effort; they won one for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance, peaked in the top ten on the Billboard charts, nabbed a ton of album of the year list mentions and capped off the victory lap with ensemble member Caroline Shaw receiving the Pulitzer Prize in Music for "Partita for 8 Voices," selections of which appear throughout the album. That's a tough act to follow for founder/director Brad Wells and his eight voice ensemble, but they prove up to the task with Render.
Their second album takes a three-part composition by Australian composer Wally Gunn and poet Maria Zajkowsk called "The Ascendant" and spreads parts of it throughout while adding sparse percussion from Jason Treuting (of So Percussion), but the whole thing is packed with inspired moments, from the layered gravity of "Suonare / To Sound" to the absurd sincerity of "High Done No Why To," the latter of which sounds like Tanya Tagaq and Merrill Garbus (of tUnE-yArDs) collaborating with the Hilliard Ensemble. The album's centerpiece is the 12-minute epic "Beneath" by ensemble alum Caleb Burhans, which fully utilizes the group's collective four-octave range in the creation of a percussive, mournful piece that's as close to heaven as the living will ever know.
While there isn't a glaring difference between the sound of their first two albums — both incorporate yodeling, whistling, Korean P'ansori, Gregorian chant, Sardinian overtone and throat singing of the Inuit and Tuvan varieties — it feels like it all comes together more naturally on Render, and goes further. (New Amsterdam)