Mar 152011

America’s obsession with choirs covering popular hits has been growing with intensity over the last several years. Just look at the television sensation Glee, the Academy Award/Hollywood darlings of PS22 Chorus, and even those crappy group song nights on American Idol.  However, last year audiences were introduced to a different kind of choir in a haunting trailer for the movie, The Social Network. Sung by an all-female Belgian group, the Scala and Kolacny Brothers’ ethereal cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” played over the montage.  Their unique take on this oft-covered tune became an overnight sensation.

The United States may just be catching on, but the Scala choir has been creating chilling cover songs since 1996. With five studio albums under their belts in Europe, Scala is finally reaching across the pond. In addition to their North American tour that begins next month, the group finally released their album in the U.S. Boasting thirteen tracks from their previous overseas albums, Scala and Kolacny Brothers is a great introduction to some of their best material. 

Although they may sound angelic, the best songs on Scala are the ones that feel the most devilish. Clearly, the choir’s niche is turning a popular song into something dark and twisted. Because we know these tunes so well, we can relate to a vision to change the context of a song through voice alone. One could imagine someone singing Scala’s version of U2’s “With or Without You” or Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” having a restraining order against them. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was never accused of being peppy, but when sung in slow unison the choir embodies the spirit of a murderous cult.

When Scala and the Kolacny’s are not projecting conjuring of stalkers or criminals, they project sorrow. Backed up only by a piano, they use their restrained control to construct a somber tone. We have all heard “Creep” hundreds of times but when the song is peeled away to bare bones, it becomes all the more tragic in self-pity. Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova” is now an anthem for the washed-up, a portrait of a has-been trying to fool himself.

It is only when they deviate from the formula that the tracks fall flat. Scala and Kolacny throw in three original compositions on the album, but their unfamiliarity prevents the same audience connection. Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” lyrics do not stir up anything sinister or sad when arranged differently. Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” is too upbeat, even when stripped down.

It is because Scala’s voices resonate with such eerie sadness that we keep listening. Sure, there is a place for cheerful show choirs too, but we need a yin and a yang. Let the PS22 smile and be the sunshine; the Scala ladies will be the ominous depression that lurks on the horizon.

Scala and Kolacny Brothers Tracklist:
01. Nothing Else Matters (Metallica cover)
02. Solsbury Hill (Peter Gabriel cover)
03. Champagne Supernova (Oasis cover)
04. Ironic (Alanis Morissette cover)
05. With or Without You (U2 cover)
06. Everlong (Foo Fighters cover)
07. I Feel You (Depeche Mode cover)
08. Use Somebody (Kings of Leon cover)
09. Our Last Fight (original)
10. Seashell (original)
11. Masquerade (of Fools) (original)
12. Creep (Live) (Radiohead cover)
13. Smells Like Teen Spirit (Live) (Nirvana cover)

Find more on Scala and Kolacny Brothers here

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