New York pop duo A Great Big World enter the big leagues with their debut LP Is There Anybody Out There? After several years of kicking around the Big Apple's singer/songwriter scene, Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino entered the public's consciousness in 2013 when their spirited piano anthem "This Is the New Year" was covered on an episode of Fox's zeitgeist generator Glee.
The song first appeared on Axel's 2011 solo record and then reappeared post-Glee under the duo's newly adopted moniker.
With their earnest, melodic piano-pop and youthful spirit, comparisons to early Ben Folds Five are inevitable, but where Folds tempered his wistfulness with a wry and often mischievous sense of humor, Axel and Vaccarino generally reach for the stars, fueled largely by hope and positivity.
The thirteen song album they've built around their breakout single is truly a loaded gun of pop music and it hits the mark more often than not.
Brimming with echoes of past piano masters like Billy Joel and Andy Pratt, they're not breaking the mold, but they've certainly read the book.
From the E.L.O.
punch of "Land of Opportunity" to the Buggles-punctuated "I Really Want It," they tackle some classic pop territory with a wide-eyed sincerity that is ultimately appealing if occasionally trite.
A Great Big World fare best when they're singing full-hearted rockers to the back of the room, covering familiar subjects of breaking out and breaking through like on the album version of "This Is the New Year." Dan Romer's production is concise and full of punch recalling his work with bands like Jukebox the Ghost and Ingrid Michaelson.
There are certainly moments on Is There Anybody Out There? that don't quite work or would benefit from some subtlety.
The well-intentioned, but poorly executed "Everyone is Gay" really misses badly and several of the ballads can't seem to recover from their lack of personality.
Still, if you're willing to drink their kool-aid, A Great Big World will deliver you to a pretty happy and hopeful place on this debut.