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Modern A Cappella Tunes

by Dan Weiss

Modern A Cappella Tunes

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Technology has done incredible things for the human voice, a paradox if ever there were one -- needing a computer cheat or loop pedal to manufacture a performance that's ostensibly from one's own mouth. So these days an artist like Juliana Barwick is considered electronic, despite her sounding like an entire church congregation herself. Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs hums and sighs like vintage James Brown into a cheap little recorder to make a funky masterpiece called "Real Live Flesh." Tom Krell of How to Dress Well slows down his own hums and whistles to make ambient backdrops for his postmodern lo-fi R&B tunes, like on ["Ready for the World,"] an homage to the New Jack Swing group of the same name, or on his Boyz II Men tribute "& It Was U," which was created with nothing but a quartet of himself and snapping percussion.

Meanwhile, vocal percussionists like former Roots member Rahzel ("Southern Girl") and electronic conceptualist Dave Aju ("Crazy Place") upped the polyrhythm ante, while Bjork enlisted the services of Japanese motormouth Dokaka to help create a dance track (["Triumph of a Heart"]) for her all-vocal album Medulla. Drum 'n' bass god Roni Size even snared Rahzel to mimic his own style for "In Tune With the Sound." The all-vocal style has even had a few hits, with Bobby McFerrin's iconic, Grammy-stealing "Don't Worry, Be Happy," and Suzanne Vega's conversational "Tom's Diner." And if you remember Rockapella's theme from the Carmen Sandiego kids show, be sure to check out their take on Vampire Weekend's "A-Punk."

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