Reviews of 2nd album, Laid Bare: Love Songs
‘Laid Bare: Love Songs trawls the post-postmodern condition in search of fresh things to say about an eternal subject. Its contents, commissioned by the three women of Juice Vocal Ensemble, deal with strong emotions, digging beneath than the self-interested surface of sexual passion to reveal parts of the psyche usually clothed in darkness. The album’s rich repertoire includes original numbers and covers of everything from Rihanna’s Only Girl to Leadbelly’s Goodnight Irene. You’d need a heart of stone to ignore the uplift of I know you love me now or resist the expressive beauty of Anna Meredith’s Heal You.
Gavin Bryars is on good form in his Petrarch setting, Io amai sempre, a mellifluous reflection on love’s contradictions that contrasts with the orgasmic energy of Mica Levi’s Never Adore and unsettling neuroses of Dai Fujikura’s Away we play. Errollyn Wallen’s Impossible Love, beautifully done by Juice, shows that mermaids and no doubt all other mythic creatures of seduction feel love’s pain.
There’s a sound and style about Juice Vocal’s Laid Bare that exceed the already weighty sum of its parts, elements in a work of musical alchemy finally realised in the half dozen tracks remixed by producers.’ ***** Sinfini Music
‘It’s rare that an album hits our desks here at So So Gay that turns out to be literally flawless. To be frank, only extraordinary music garners 5-star reviews from us. Hence, it’s a very exclusive club. Enter Juice Vocal Ensemble with their sophomore album, Love Songs: Laid Bare.
Earlier this year, we got a tantalising appetiser of what the album would bring in the form of lead single, ‘Heal You’. We absolutely loved the track so it was with a sense of great anticipation that we sat down to absorb Love Songs: Laid Bare for the first time.
A cappella music can be a risky business, for fairly obvious reasons. The vocal harmonisation required to be successful in the genre is not a task for the faint-hearted. When it’s done really well, it’s a thing of almost unrivalled musical beauty. In the case of Juice Vocal Ensemble, the irresistible talents of sopranos, Anna Snow and Sarah Dacey, combined with the alto perfection provided by Kerry Andrew absolutely hit the mark.
Love Songs: Laid Bare is composed of a sublime mix of original compositions and reworkings of established songs from a wide range of genres, from traditional to ‘Rihanna’ (yes, Rihanna is pretty much her own genre now). The sheer scope of the work is best demonstrated by tracks 10 and 11. The former, ‘Aham Prema’ is based on the Sanskrit mantra ‘I am Divine Love’ and features traditional chanting underpinned by some truly stunning backing harmonisation. Hot on its heels is the trio’s interpretation of ‘Only Girl (In The World)’, on which the track’s addictive synth-line is recreated using the group’s voices. There’s a definite soupçon of jazz running through the rendition and this, combined with the beatboxing, add further nuance to a truly remarkable version of Rihanna’s smash hit single. It’s a definite highlight.
Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’ and ‘You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)’ are also given the ‘Juice treatment’ and emerge reinvented and reinvigorated from the process. Therein lies the threesome’s greatest innate gift: the ability to take a piece of work seemingly so at odds with what one would expect classically trained singers to attempt and turn it into something astonishing.
Elsewhere, there are tracks that are reminiscent of Björk’s Medúlla, not least ‘Away We Play’, which includes a sound that can only be compared to chattering birdsong. Again, what Juice Vocal Ensemble consistently succeed is achieving is a rare balance of quirkiness and talent, rendering them unique but for all the right reasons.
Purists will be enraptured by ‘Io Amai Sempre’, ‘The Unquiet Grave’ and ‘Impossible Love’, all of which feature more ‘traditional’ arrangements, thereby allowing the group’s vocal prowess to take centre stage.
Overall, Love Songs: Laid Bare is a rare feat of musical genius in a musical world saturated by conveyor belt talent show pop puppets and generic mass-produced pseudo-house. Be under no illusion: this is a highly ambitious project. At first glance, the tracklisting may seem schizophrenic – we suspect this is no accident. It’s the very fact that the album hops so wildly between tempos and genres that makes it such a breathtaking achievement. What underpins the whole affair is a discernible sense that despite the huge amount of work that has clearly gone into turning this album out, Dacey, Andrew and Snow clearly don’t take themselves too seriously. That can only be a good thing.
We confess ourselves to being on the luke warm side of enthusiastic when it comes to a cappella music. However, this album goes beyond simple harmonisation, packing a killer punch with its breadth and depth. If you haven’t discovered Juice Vocal Ensemble yet, we urge you to do so. Beautifully beguiling, Love Songs: Laid Bare should see the group solidify their position as ‘ones to watch’, while hopefully attracting a legion of new fans with its addictive mix of styles. The album also features some pretty inspired remixes, all of which may also remind you of a certain Icelandic songstress.
This is up there with the best albums of 2014 so far: don’t miss out.’ ***** So So Gay Magazine
Live performance reviews
‘Juice, a (mostly) unaccompanied female vocal trio, played the first full set, a blend of original commissions and their own arrangements of pop songs, including the Rihanna piece. Technically capable of both angular contemporary classical pieces and gooey extruded pop lyrics, their covers are stripped of familiar saccharine arrangements, to create a completely revitalised arrangement that revels in the naked beauty of human voice’, May 2014, The Arts Desk
‘Juice Vocal Ensemble are making a cappella cool’ November 2013, Minnesota Public Radio
‘Forget what you think you know about a cappella music: London’s Juice Vocal Ensemble is one of the most original groups out there’ Soundcheck, November 2013, WNYC
‘Who says you can’t mix pop, folk, experimental, and classical? The Juice Vocal Ensemble certainly doesn’t. These three women not only sing the parts well but have captured a style that is endearing in its deeply dedicated but light-hearted approach.’ NYC, November 2013, Seen and Heard International
‘Juice’s masterful vocal interpretations and a diverse song selection go beyond the act of exploring and deconstructing for the sake of exploring and deconstructing. These talented female vocalists are charismatic and sophisticated musical storytellers, creating situations, characters, and environments by interweaving solos and flawless harmonies. With other percussive and verbal interplay, they make you feel like you are part of the work, and sometimes, breathing right along with them.’ November 2013, WNPR
‘Into this dusty time capsule came juice, a trio of female vocalists whose repertoire spanned traditional English and American folk songs but whose techniques were decidedly experimental. Clothed in ethereal white dresses, and between songs leading us slowly from room to room, the singers appeared as ghosts, or perhaps young girls celebrating their First Holy Communion. The atmosphere they were able to generate was one of intense stillness, the audience slowly becoming part of the still-life of the house itself, although there were also moments of playfulness that raised a smile and warm applause at the end.’ Spitalfields Music Festival, August 2013, Exeunt Magazine
‘the spooky parlour music of experimental a capella trio, Juice, lulled you into a semi-stupor. The trio then proceeded to lead the audience on a small tour of the still-life drama of the house, lit exclusively by candles and at all times underscored by their menacingly angelic tones.’ – Spitalfields Music Festival, August 2013 - The Upcoming
‘three dashing lasses from England who do a charming line in choral beatboxing. That’s what you get: three ladies singing these weirdly addictive a cappella tunes which are a little bit folk, classical, operatic, pop, experimental, improvised and scatty jazz…they really were like nothing else I came across at SXSW.’ - The Irish Times
‘Could three female voices be funny or rumbustious, could they evoke farmyard noises or a frightening voyage to the frozen North or a sultry afternoon in the Deep South? Could they be jazzy or folky or spookily avant-garde? Juice prove conclusively they can be all of these, and more…in the lofty, luxuriously ornate chapel of Queen’s College they held us all spellbound..all these were sung with amazing razor-sharp tuning and purity of tone. It was astonishing to hear the three voices swoop from a high-spaced dissonant chord to an icy cluster, without the smallest wobble or uncertainty.’ - Daily Telegraph
‘The trio is called Juice. If that implies something fluid, fruity and refreshing, it is apt. Their repertoire extends from classy takes on jazz standards and dark folk songs to longer pieces using avant-garde vocal techniques – patter, huffing, puffing, beatboxing – that make Stockhausen or Berio sound prehistoric. Juice, who do nearly everything from memory and with perfect intonation, are the 21st century’s answer to the Swingles or King’s Singers – and deserve to be as famous.’ - The Times
‘Through daytime composer workshops and a thoroughly engaging evening concert, Juice made a most productive and welcome contribution..Their performance of new works specially selected for the event showed a masterful blend of virtuosity, control of detail, theatricality and modesty, and provided the chosen pieces by student composers with premieres of exceptional quality and conviction.’ - Review of RMA Research Students Conference, Roisin Blunnie
‘before a presentation by Juice of a vocal picture…made of an extraordinary syllabic poetry that is all but old fashioned. We will follow them attentively, these three British ladies!’ - RifRaf, France
‘Juice are each versatile and have stage-presence in abundance; collectively they are formidable. Singing most of their programme from memory – itself an achievement, the singers’ range of sounds, pitches (and the techniques required to produce them) were in themselves compelling.’ - Classical Source
‘They perform mainly without music with complete commitment – and are utterly captivating.’ - Musical Pointers
‘Juice – the most original group in the competition. In the vocal ensemble singing contest, juice stood out brightly. The three women of the experimental group presented a concise programme on a grand scale, fully displaying their capabilities. They had the means for both powerful and pure singing, excellent vocal production, rhythms and incisive harmonies, all in all presented the most skilled package.’ - Aamulehti, Finnish national newspaper (at the Tampere Vocal Festival)
‘This group already has an impressive track-record of contemporary music performances, and it was obvious why. A command of blend, tone and tuning gripped the attention’ - Music and Vision
‘No more than three voices in a programme of unaccompanied singing, but Juice easily transported their audience to the wildest realms of vocal delight.’ - The Herald, Scotland
Reviews of debut album ‘Songspin’
‘Juice, the a cappella British women’s vocal trio, doesn’t sound quite like anything else; it is truly sui generis. Other music that its work at various times calls to mind include that of Meredith Monk (most strongly), Bobby McFerrin, Toby Twining, The Swingle Singers, Tuvan throat singers and the sweet harmonies of more traditional women’s folk ensembles. Their program is wonderfully diverse….no matter how demanding the music in the extremity of it range, the density of its harmonies, the eccentricities of its timbres, and the complexity of its rhythms, the singers make consistently beautiful sounds with astonishingly clean intonation. This could be a good starter album for fans of vocal music willing to venture out into the realm of new music; the human voice softens the effect of dissonance more than any other instrument, and chords that might be jarring if heard played by a piano or a choir of clarinets can have a cushiony warmth when sung in tune and with lovely tone quality, as they are here. As with most of Nonclassical label’s releases, several tracks are devoted to inventive remixes of some of the pieces. The sound is clean, detailed, and realistic.’ **** – AllMusic
‘The irrepressible Juice Vocal Ensemble – an all-female trio of astonishing variety, spark and brilliance – is proof that the sap is still rising in classical music. They may not seek comparison with the Swingles or King’s Singers, but that, and mention perhaps of Meredith Monk, helps gives an idea of their inventive sound-world. This is their debut CD. Eighteen immaculately achieved tracks..folk song and avant garde, enchant and enthrall..Small-label CDs such as this tend to get lost. Seek it out.’ - The Observer
‘The range of this new young vocal trio is immense, their a cappella journeys on this debut album taking in everything from traditional folk to Berio-esque deconstructions, delivered with perfect pitch and an ear for the most apt harmony.’ **** – The Independent
Sassy, vibrant and enthralling, Juice Vocal Ensemble possess more than enough rocket fuel in their vocal chords to transport listeners. Spirited imagination runs riot on this sparkling debut album..pinpoint accuracy on toning and tuning is a big plus, but some wise song selections also help keep you hooked…Songspin is a refreshing, innovative and delightful affair. Hopefully we’ll get to experience a live Irish show in the not-too-distant future.’ **** – The Irish Times
‘It’s all quite fruity!…If anyone is looking for something a bit different, it’s worth a punt.’ – Paul Mealor, BBC Music Magazine
‘Bringing art music forward to a hip, modern sensibility…Despite arrangements that are incredibly complex and vocally demanding, their delivery is crystal clear, clean and precise..With the use of breath, sighs, sonorous and dissonant harmonies, these women demonstrate how the primal resonance of the human voice has the ability to shape (or even bend) our psyches…They end off the recording with seven playful, quirky remixes; having already taken the listener to the edge, they then extend far beyond.’ – The Whole Note, Canada
‘Spanning simple folk songs to post-postmodern DJ-style remixes, it is hard not to get caught up in the eclectic smorgasbord on offer. The performers themselves carry it all with consummate musicianship. Recommended.’ – CompositionToday
‘very modern, savvy interpretation..complementary and often compelling remixes’ – Muso