PTX: Volume II, deceivingly titled as it is Pentatonix’s third EP (after PTX: Volume I and PTXmas) in less than two years since the a cappella group won their recording contract with Sony, has at long last been released for early listening through Billboard.com after nearly a year’s worth of planning, writing and recording. The end result is a nine-track mix of originals and covers that is a brilliant culmination of where PTX has come from, and where they are going.
The opening track of the album is familiar to those who follow Pentatonix on YouTube – Can’t Hold Us, which was released as a music video back in August, is the quintessential cover song and a very smart choice to suck new fans, casual YouTube subscribers and die-hard fans alike in. It, along with covers I Need Your Love and album exclusive Save The World/Don’t You Worry Child (also an old YouTube release), embodies the sound of contemporary a cappella that most people have come to hear through Pentatonix’s launching pad The Sing-Off (coming back to NBC December 9th) and Pitch Perfect. Like PTX has stated before, while they will be moving forward with unique and original sounds, there will always be a place in their repertoire for contemporary a cappella covers. These tracks remind us where Pentatonix has come from, and why they’re the standard to beat in the a cappella world.
However, moving forward they certainly are, as shown by the impressive range of sounds coming from their three purely-original tracks, Natural Disaster, Love Again and Run to You. While PTX considers their writing process as highly collaborative, the first of these three is clearly penned by Kevin Olusola; “Natural Disaster” is a perfect homage to the “darker emotions of love” that KO frequently talks about in concert while performing one of his favorite covers “Love Lockdown”. The building of harmonies as each verse progresses along with the powerful rhythm section in the chorus really evokes the power and fluidity of an emotional storm, and Scott Hoying’s vocals as the driving force have rarely sounded better.
Love Again at first sounds like a throwback to PTX: Volume I original “Show You How to Love”, but actually shows how far Pentatonix’s arrangements have come since their debut album. Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola are highlighted at all the right moments, and combined with light yet impactful harmonies and Mitch Grassi’s always spellbinding voice fills up the space without sounding too heavy. The song lends itself perfectly to potential remixing, and hearing this song on the dance floor is more than one of Pentatonix’s dreams – it’s inevitable.
The last pure original on the EP, Run To You, is unlike anyone has heard from Pentatonix, comparable only to their early 2013 tour-exclusive song “The Peaceful War”. The self-described ballad sounds more like a choral arrangement than anything else, which is a beautiful reflection of where a cappella music as a whole has its roots, as well as the roots of the members of PTX, especially classically-trained opera and chamber singer Avi Kaplan. A modern a cappella group coming back to the roots of the genre makes it not only a deeply emotional love song to the second-person “you”, but to a cappella as a whole. Kaplan has expressed intention to release the sheet music to this song soon, and undoubtedly soon after that it will find itself among the repertoire of hundreds of choral groups. As a side note, this is the first time we have heard Kevin Olusola sing throughout a track, and we certainly hope it isn’t the last.
The other three songs on the album pack such strong artistic punches in their own rights that they’re hard to compare to anything else. The Daft Punk medley follows Pentatonix’s recent theme of “Evolution of” videos (complete with solos from every member of the group; it’s great to finally hear Kirstie Maldonado shine on the album!), but also combines their old trademark of mid-song remix and results in an impossibly catchy Evolution of PTX Style. Valentine, a Jessie Ware cover, gains a deeper, more sensual feel through the combined lead vocals of Grassi and Hoying, and the KO’s breathwork in his vocal percussion makes the song feel intimately raw. Hey Momma, a brilliant mix of Ray Charles’ “Hit The Road Jack” and original verses penned by Olusola, sound as though they were meant to belong together, which is exactly what PTX does best – makes already-loved songs sound so much better you question whether they were Pentatonix’s in the first place.
The album officially releases November 5th on iTunes and Amazon, and will be available physically in the near future. Pentatonix will be heading on a sold-out European tour in November shortly afterward, bringing the new songs overseas and then back to the United States and Canada early 2014.