Tag Archives: This Is The New Year

ALBUM REVIEW: A Great Big World – Is There Anybody Out There?

"Something" more than the hit single.

“Something” more than the hit cut.

In January 2011, I discovered a song called “This Is The New Year” by a newcomer named Ian Axel. The song was released on a small label and ended up being promoted to AAA (Adult Album Alternative) radio around that time. I playlisted the song for a few weeks, but when it was clear that it wouldn’t take off at radio, I ultimately dropped it from rotation. It wasn’t that the song was bad, but I just needed to move onto other releases.

So, imagine my surprise when two years later, that single returned under a different act, A Great Big World. This time around, Axel teamed with friend Chad Vaccarino, and after its use on Glee and the duo’s signing to Epic Records, the song finally managed to secure some play. However, it’s a second release and big ballad “Say Something” that’s captivated a wider audience thanks to a duet version with Christina Aguilera. The simplicity of both its heartfelt lyrics and melody seems to be relatable to just about anyone in a darker situation.

Now comes the twosome’s debut album, Is There Anybody Out There?, a fantastic collection of thirteen songs that runs through themes of breaking hearts, breaking stereotypes and, at the core of it, breaking through. It’s one of the first great albums of 2014 and one that I think will surprise many who didn’t intend to go beyond the singles. It’s absolutely worth it.

Opener “Rockstar” begins on a positive note with the fantasy of dreaming big; in this case, it’s the sentiment of “I just wanna be a rockstar.” The piano-driven melody explodes into a fuller arrangement of drum and guitar, reminiscent of something like “Slice” by Five For Fighting. They may be “hanging on the memory of what we would become”, and luckily, the dream has blossomed and survived thus far. (P.S. nice album title shout-out early on!)

It’s then onto “Land Of Opportunity”, which comes off as the happy breakup song of the bunch. (For the duo, it was a falling out with a friend.) From the fun and whimsical set of lyrics, like “I’m changing my name to a word that’s really hard to say,” to a Middle 8 straight out of the fairground, this is pure pop magic. Just stick around after that chaotic percussion madness; it ends on a note of beauty, and that’s one “opportunity” it can’t afford to give up.

Third track “Already Home” verges into Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah” territory, a simple ballad that sort of acts as the calm before the storm moment preceding “Say Something”. They sing, “If only New York wasn’t so far away/I promise this city won’t get in our way.” Following that is the upbeat “I Really Want It”, which echoes the “homeward bound” sentiment established in “Already”. This song, however, showcases the two men’s determination to make it in the industry, albeit on their own terms and not by societal pressures. It’s not among my favorites, but it’s still cute.

After the aforementioned “Something” is a set of three songs that tap into religious tones. “You’ll Be Okay” flourishes like a modern-day spiritual, with an inspiring message of “You’ll be okay/The sun will rise to better days.” Track seven, “Everyone Is Gay”, is a lovable, energetic piece that also shines as a theatrical number (not unlike some other tracks on here), like it was meant to be in Avenue Q. They’re “one step closer to breaking down the walls” of those close-minded individuals that won’t accept love as love and people for who they are. Finally, “There Is An Answer” again furthers the notion that “love exists in every kind” and “that will love find us here.” It’s accessible and elegant.

The ending four tracks represent a hodgepodge of different musical styles, from the guitar-driven “I Don’t Wanna Love Somebody Else”, an ode to living for the troubles in a relationship even when it’s beyond repair, to the celebratory “This Is The New Year”, an anthem for those starting over in life or those who need to be picked up. Possibly the one track that sticks out the most is “Shorty Don’t Wait”, 11th in the lineup, the most folk-driven song of them all. It’s perfect for bars, festivals… pretty much anywhere where you’re just chilling with friends and having a good time. It’ll be much bigger and better live when everybody’s chanting along. If you’re upset that this listening party is coming to a close, then “Cheer Up!” Track 12 is a curiously atmospheric, but barren sounding track (cue the Owl City songbook) that attempts to put everything in perspective: “It’s a great big world and there’s no need to cry/13 billion years and there’s still time.” Well said. (The Aguilera-assisted “Something” ends the set as a closer on track 13.)

Rooted in emotional experiences and well-crafted arranging, A Great Big World has a solid repertoire with the material they’ve produced on this album and a decent amount of variety. It’s a quick listen but a balanced one, mixing both traditional and futuristic pop tracks, as well as the serious and fun moments (though that fun does occasionally come off as a little juvenile, not that that’s unfavorable with me.) It’s certainly radio-ready; Epic would be wise to try one of the peppier numbers, like “Rockstar”, as the third single from the effort. It has the feel of a Hot AC hit. Pop enthusiasts, theater kids, and The Voice fans, unite: to answer that pivotal question, we’re all out here rooting for the boys… are you?

Stream Is There Anybody Out There? on iTunes and pre-order the album, due on Tuesday (1/21).

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PROFILE: A Great Big World Get A Gleeful Gain

"New" kids in town.

“New” kids in town.

Say hello to two guys who call themselves A Great Big World. Don’t know this duo yet? Well, they’re about to get their big introduction to the mainstream via a cover on the television show Glee. You may remember that a little song called “We Are Young” made its debut to a large audience on the same television show in December 2011, and now fun. is practically a household name with several GRAMMY nominations and two million-selling singles. Will the same overnight success happen with this duo’s “This Is The New Year”? The year is still young. Here’s a little background on the group and the song that you may be adding on your next playlist.

The duo of Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino formed at New York University a few years back and they eventually formed a friendship while playing at the piano in the college’s practice spaces. Vaccarino found that Axel had a natural ability to sing and helped him to perfect his craft, going so far as to pay for his first professional vocal lesson. Axel started off as a solo artist, with Vaccarino managing him and writing his material. Axel put out “New Year” in a studio version to Adult Album Alternative, or AAA radio at this time last year, but the song never gained any traction on the airwaves and like a lot of songs, faded away, at least in the world of radio programmers. (The song dates back to at least 2008.) The song, however, provided them some online attention and the two set out on the road, opening for singer-songwriters like Five For Fighting and Ingrid Michaelson. It also got Axel’s material licensed to television shows like ABC’s Good Morning America and CBS’s The Amazing Race, among other well-known programs.

Last summer, Axel’s solo act turned into both performers being credit as a duo, A Great Big World, and the two created and released a six-song EP funded on the popular site Kickstarter. Vaccarino states, “It’s optimistic, hopeful pop music. There are fewer songs about heartbreak and more about the meaning of life, but even the most painful of our songs are hopeful.” That hopefulness is definitely heard in “New Year”, as Axel and Vaccarino sing, “‘Cause in the end we have each other/And that’s at least one thing worth living for.” It’s a soaring piano-lead number that recalls the classic mid-80s Americana anthem mixed with a contemporary vocal and other melodic elements. It would certainly fit in with the current sound of adult contemporary radio and also has big crossover potential. The Glee version doesn’t really compare to it, but the group does a decent rendition of it. There’s a lot of expectations following the sudden exposure of the song on a major TV show, but I think the boys will be able to follow through and deliver one of this year’s first big breakout singles.

Tune in and see the cast of Glee perform the song on the episode entitled “Naked”. It airs tonight at 9PM Eastern/8PM Central on FOX. Meanwhile, look for the original version on the charts in the next few weeks. By the way, if you get the chance, check out their whole EP, which is also available digitally. “I Really Want It” is another solid song from the effort, as well as “There Is The Answer”. Let’s hope that the answer is a good one following the show’s airing.

Buy “This Is The New Year” on iTunes:
A GREAT BIG WORLD VERSION
GLEE VERSION

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