Arts & Culture

Hats off: Brown Derbies drop new album, “Unaccounted For”

With tracks like ‘Chandelier,’ ‘Don’t Wanna Fight,’ release marks group’s new chapter

By
Staff Writer
Monday, September 18, 2017

Sept. 15 marked a special day for the Brown Derbies: the release of their latest album, “Unaccounted For.”

The 13th album released by the a cappella group, “Unaccounted For,” features a variety of contemporary music, all drawn directly from the Derbies’ repertoire. Tracks range from pervasive pop hits like Sia and Jessie Shatkin’s “Chandelier” to the soulful rock of Alabama Shakes’ “Don’t Wanna Fight.” The Derbies harmonize flawlessly throughout each number, building off the central melody and taking advantage of the flexible nature of a cappella. There’s no shortage of swelling crescendos, shining solos and weighty moments of silence.

The album is a product of three years’ work, consisting of tracks recorded from 2014-2017 and featuring the voices of Derbies from six years’ worth of graduating classes.

With their iconic hats and vests, the a cappella group has been a presence on the University’s campus since the ’80s, with their first album released in 1986. Their most recent performance, “Smoked Salomon,” a joint event with the Chattertocks a cappella group, took place in Salomon Hall last Friday, the same day “Unaccounted For” was released. The Derbies “had a very engaging stage presence, as well as amazing vocals,” said Estefany Delgadillo ’20, who attended the performance.

The Derbies have also been a presence on other college campuses, going on tour every year to national and international venues. Last year, they visited U.S. cities like New Orleans and Austin, Texas; the year before, they toured in China.

“There have been a couple occasions on tour when we’ll lose someone in a foreign city, and that’s kind of where the term ‘Unaccounted For’ came from,” said Oliver Hu ’18, the Derbies’ music director. “We always find them — don’t worry!.” 

All of the music in the album is arranged by members of the Derbies themselves. “A lot of beginning arrangers listen to the song and essentially just make a carbon-copy of the song for voice,” Hu said. “And it works — you make this faithful recreation of a song …(but) voices have unique qualities and abilities that instruments don’t have, and vice versa, so I think it’s very important to adapt a song so that you take advantage of the fact it’s a group of singers.”

Musically, “Unaccounted For” is “pushing the envelope,” said Iladro Sauls ’19, co-business manager of the Derbies. “We really tried to branch out in terms of bringing some unique stylistic twists to the songs.” He noted the album’s use of silence as one such twist, remarking on the way the Derbies would “really (strip) things down to dynamics, sometimes just the beat and the solo… down to the main essential parts, and then (use) swells and stuff to bring everyone back in.”

The album is already on streaming services including Spotify and iTunes, and hard copies of the CD will also be for sale at future Derby performances. “It sounds a little bare bones, but we just try to make music that people enjoy listening to,” Sauls said. “The goal in going into it (isn’t that) we want to make good a cappella music — we just want to make good music.”