It’s sefirah again, which means time for some a cappella (that’s “chapel-style”, i.e., “non-instrumental”, for you non-Italian speakers) music, and who better to kick off the season than Yeshiva University’s very own Maccabeats? Founded in 2007, the Maccabeats’ popularity took off three and a half years ago when their hit Chanukah song “Candlelight” hit YouTube (nearly 9.3 million hits and counting!). Since then, the Maccabeats, under the leadership of Julian Horowitz, have appeared at venues ranging from the Today show to the HASC concert to the White House, and everything in between.
One Day More, the Maccabeats’ third album, is mainly—but not exclusively—a collection of the songs and singles the group has released in the two years since the release of their last album, Out of the Box. As we’ve come to expect from this immensely talented group, the set list is a mixture of mainstream Jewish music, pop covers and remixes, and original songs. When available, I will link to the sanctioned YouTube videos of the tracks (which are often amazing productions in their own right) so you don’t have to take my word for anything.
Track 1, “Acheinu” (based on the Avicii songs “Wake Me Up” and “Hey Brother”): The opening track of the album is a new production for those of us who keep track of the Maccabeats’ YouTube videos, and it is a suitable opening for their newest production. The arrangements show off the vocalists’ singing, harmonizing, and beatboxing abilities, and the lyrics present a message of hope and unity.
Track 2, “Malchei Hamelachim” (originally by Eyal Golan): This track, originally from the artist behind “Mi Shemaamin” (we’ll get to that in a minute), is performed by Josh Jay and Chanina Abramowitz, who really do the song justice. The singers give it their all, and the background vocals are predictably superb.
Track 3, “Yesh Tikvah/Ki Malachav/Mi Shemaamin”, feat. Benny Friedman and Six13 (originally by Benny Friedman, Shauly Waldner, and Eyal Golan): Arranged by Mike Boxer, this mashup of recent hits is my favorite track on the album. It helps that the lead vocalist for “Yesh Tikvah” actually sounds a lot like Benny Friedman—just kidding, that’s actually him. In my opinion, one of the best attributes of the Maccabeats is their ability to make a cappella itself enjoyable without pretending to actually sound like instruments, and this song epitomizes that concept—no one will confuse the “ba ba-a-ah a-a-ah” in the background during “Mi Shemaamin” with a trumpet section, and that’s a good thing.
Track 4, “Shine” (composed by Julian Horowitz with Isaac Raisner and Ari Lewis): If you had Track 4 in your office pool for us to get to the first Chanukah song on the album, then you’re a winner! The first Maccabeats original on this album, “Shine” was composed as part of the 2012 Miracle Match Campaign, which attempts to match potential bone marrow donors with needing recipients. Jeff Ritholtz handles the lead vocals on this track, and his great voice really comes through in this recording.
Track 5, “Eishet Chayil” (composed by Yonatan Shefa): Another Maccabeats original, this song features composer Yonatan Shefa in the lead spot. I especially like the backup vocal arrangements on this track starting at around the 1:17 mark of the song.
Track 6, “Les Misérables Medley”: This medley, originally released before Pesach of last year, is actually another Maccabeats holiday special—it’s almost uncanny how the lyrics of Les Miz can be reinterpreted as a Pesach story with very little editing. The medley includes the classic song “One Day More”, the title song of the album, which (depending on how you choose to interpret it) can refer to the hope of the citizens of Revolutionary France, the anticipation of B’nei Yisrael in Mitzrayim about to bring the first korban Pesach—or, if you wish, the wonder of the Maccabeats realizing that they have put out three albums over the last four years.
Track 7 “Lemaan”, feat. Shalsheles (composed by Yitzchok Rosenthal): Ok, where have I heard this song before…? Oh, of course. This track, originally released last summer and also featured on Shalsheles Connections, features Yitzchok Rosenthal, Chaim Block, Boruch Aryeh, and Simcha Sussman of Shalsheles. Buri Rosenberg and Yonatan Shefa also contribute their talents, and it’s still a great song.
Track 8, “Cups/D’ror Yikra” (based on “When I’m Gone” by A.P. Carter): Goodness gracious, just watch that video! Forget the singing—how did they coordinate that hand clap/cup/table drum choreography?!?!? I told you these guys were talented.
Track 9, “Brave” (originally by Sara Bareillis): This song is a straight-up cover of Sara Bareillis’ pop-rock song about overcoming fear and misgivings (“Say what you want to say/And let the words fall out”). As usual, the Maccabeats’ backup vocals render the need for instruments moot (despite what you may see in the video), and Meir Shapiro and Yonatan Shefa put on a resounding performance in the lead spots.
Track 10, “Burn” (originally by Ellie Goulding): Another song featured in the Miracle Match campaign, this cover was last year’s legally required Maccabeats Chanukah arrangement. The video appropriately features shots of turkeys being taken out of the oven in honor of Thanksgivukkah—the once-in-a-lifetime convergence of Thanksgiving 2013 and (way-too-early) Chanukah 5774.
Track 11, “Nachamu Medley” (originally by Tzlil V’zemer Boys Choir and Safam): Blasts from the past, Three Weeks style! The first song in this medley (originally from Tzlil V’zemer’s 1998 album Hear Us Now) was always one of my favorites, and it is an absolute pleasure to hear the Maccabeats cover it. The second song in the medley (from Safam’s 1991 album On Track) is just as classic, and probably more well-known in its time. Both songs here are arranged by Julian Horowitz; and Josh Jay, Ari Lewis, and Nachum Joel take the lead.
Track 12, “One Day (Reprise)” (originally by Matisyahu): Another album, another cover of Matisyahu’s Olympic unity/world peace/Moshiach-is-coming-soon anthem. The Maccabeats’ first remix of “One Day” appeared on their first album, Voices from the Heights. This version has a new arrangement, especially of the second verse and the bridge. Fake Jamaican accents are, mercifully, mostly left at home.
BONUS TRACK: “Sukkos Style” (based on “Gangnam Style” by Psy): Oh. My. All. Mighty. I thought I had gotten that song surgically removed from my brain months ago. At least it’s 1) actually a cappella (albeit heavy on the effects), and 2) not actually meant to be taken seriously.
In summary, the Maccabeats’ latest offering is another true masterpiece. If you love a cappella, you will love One Day More. Even if you normally hate a cappella, you owe it to yourself to give the Maccabeats a listen—these guys are that good, and you still have three weeks until Lag Ba’omer.