by Dom Jones
When I met Shakale, he was pretty extra. I mean… it’s no secret that I think this, I tell Shakale he’s extra pretty frequently. He’s the stylish guy you see walking around campus in a full length wool coat, dressed more like he’s going to the Cotton Club than class. He’s one of the stars of Berklee’s most lauded acapella group, Pitch Slapped. He also happens to be a Berklee Groove Sessions alum, headlining the Vol. 4 show. An interaction with Shakale will let find one laughing and feeling as though you’ve known each other for years and are old friends catching up, so when he announced the release of his new single, I was excited to hear what he’d be bringing to the table. I think we all know that at Berklee, it’s way too easy for the brightest and most heard voices to get away with madness when they release music. They can riff all over the place, so the songwriting doesn’t have to be there, and sometimes the production can be lackluster as well. Sometimes, these “vocal elites” push mediocre content to us, expecting our ears to swell at just the sound of their voices. I’m so happy that Shakale has set himself apart from that nonsense with this single.
The lyrics can seem cryptic, but when listening, you get that it’s simply a love song that allows space for the listener to construct their own meaning from the song. It’s not boy meets girl, it’s not “hey, you broke my heart” – it’s the Chocolate Factory of songs, where you could be Charlie and end up running the whole place or you could be end up blowing up into a gigantic blueberry like Violet. Neverland is the “build your own adventure” song, which is a tough kind of song to write. We hear several times throughout the song, “Neverland isn’t what it seems,” and love is like that: sometimes dream, sometimes nightmare, sometimes sleepwalking over a cliff. True to love’s form, this song eschews any typical song form. You can definitely feel section changes, but what I suspect is the chorus doesn’t necessarily feel like a chorus – it has almost a bridge feeling to get you to the next verse. What feels like the bridge could be the chorus, the bridge-like chorus happens, and then the song’s over!
Now let’s talk about these vocals! I’m basically obsessed with this guy’s lower register, and we get that on this track, but we also hear his vast range, especially once we get to what I’ll call the bridge. The vocal riffs are tastefully placed and not overdone, and really, it’s Shakale’s tone that shines through. The harmonic choices are smart and sometimes very unexpected, which makes the song feel like a journey. When it ends… you don’t want it to. That must be why I sat with it on repeat for half an hour.