Incredible a capella arrangements in “PTX Vol. II” captivate listeners


Left to right: Avi Kaplan, Mitch Grassi, Kirstie Maldonado, Scott Hoying and Kevin Olusola are members of the talented a capella group known as Pentatonix. Photo courtesy of Billboard.

Ellen Kan, Managing Editor

In today’s day and age, it’s hard to find a truly talented musical group, one that can sing and perform without the aid of auto-tune and obnoxious background music that detracts from the vocalists. A capella singers are a welcome alternative to the overrated pop musicians that dominate the industry, but they are seldom good enough to make it to the top.

That is, until Pentatonix came along.

Composed of singers Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying, Avi Kaplan, Kirstie Maldonado and Kevin Olusola, Pentatonix is a groundbreaking quintet that has revolutionized the a capella world. The group first came to the public’s attention in 2011 when they auditioned for the third season of The Sing-Off, an a capella singing competition hosted by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) on television.

The quintet went on to win The Sing-Off with striking musical adaptations such as a powerful cover of Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over” and an impressive Britney Spears medley. Since then, the group has steadily risen to fame by posting covers and mash-ups of popular songs, many of which have gone viral on YouTube.

Pentatonix’s new album, “PTX Vol. II,” is nothing short of perfection. Released on Nov. 5, the album debuted in the top 10 on Billboard and quickly captured the number two spot on iTunes.

The group consistently refines their musical technique and group dynamics to come up with arrangements that are catchier every time. “PTX Vol. II” is no exception, as the album contains an expansive range of musical styles, from the infectious interpretation of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us” to the soulful and soothing original “Run to You.”

One major improvement in this album is Pentatonix’s choice of music; the pieces in “PTX Vol. II” really showcase the strengths of each individual. In the past, some of their songs focused too much on Hoying, who often acts as the lead vocalist. While Hoying’s lyrical voice is, without a doubt, universally appealing, it was delightful to hear more of Grassi’s angelic notes and Maldonado’s expressive soprano.

And of course, there is Kaplan and Olusola. Hoying, Grassi and Maldonado are all talented singers, but it is Kaplan and Olusola, the group’s vocal bass and beatboxer, who make the quintet truly phenomenal.

Kaplan’s husky undertones, especially in “Love Again,” are staggering and cannot be truly appreciated without a set of good headphones. On the other hand, Olusola never fails to deliver sequences so remarkable that it is hard to believe his rhythms are generated entirely by the human voice.

I was especially overwhelmed by Pentatonix’s beautiful rendition of “Valentine,” which was originally performed by Jessie Ware and Sampha. “Valentine” was a standout in an album that is already way above par, and I instantly fell in love with the genius intertwining of Grassi and Hoying’s melodic solos.

Another exceptional song from the album is “Daft Punk,” a medley that incorporates segments from “Get Lucky,” “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” “Celebrate” and “One More Time.” I view this upbeat arrangement as the epitome of Pentatonix, because it really flaunts each member’s gift and demonstrates the group’s ability to seamlessly and successfully pull together a million different elements of music.

It is now two years after the quintet’s formation and two years after Pentatonix stated in their interview with The Sing-Off that they wanted to become the first mainstream a capella group. If Pentatonix – with their wildly popular covers and exquisite, one-of-a-kind harmonies – isn’t considered mainstream yet, then I don’t think any a capella group will ever stand a chance.