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Best known for their breakthrough performance of “Say Something” on The Voice with Christina Aguilera, Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino (A Great Big World) have made headway with their debut album, Is There Anybody Out There?, out Jan. 21.
The release has been dubbed a “pop surprise” by several critics, featuring tracks inspired by a wide range of genres — from classic rock to Broadway musicals. Reviews have been mixed, but interest remains high as the duo unveils their first major-label project.
While we may not have a definitive answer, the question is raised — Is There Anybody Out There? — in this week’s What the Critics are Saying:
While the pair’s first record recalls the “gentle and plain-spoken” tone of a “starter folk album,” The New York TImes‘ Jon Caramanica contends that Is There Anybody Out There? is a “painfully executed” release marked by dullness and clumsiness. “Mr. Axel especially has a grating voice with no color, almost digital in its simplicity,” Caramanica writes.
“Move over, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — another socially-conscious duo is hot on your heels,” warns USA Today‘s Elysa Gardner. The debut album reflects “influences from Ben Folds Five to Broadway musicals,” with “smartly crafted, often piano-based tunes.” But while the few ballads prove compelling, “it’s the more driving tracks… that establish the pair as pop contenders.”
New York Daily News‘ Jim Farber gave the album 2 out of 5 stars, describing Is There Anybody Out There? as the “latest, and clumsiest example” of artists infusing “the geekiest elements of modern show tunes into the musical mainstream.” Farber goes on to criticize the band’s arrangements, beats, and vocals, which “squeak over piano chords that plunge like an even-more-ham-fisted Billy Joel.”
Newsday‘s Glenn Gamboa gave Is There Anybody Out There? a B+, calling the debut “eclectic” both musically and lyrically. Between its piano heavy tracks and Broadway anthems, the album is something of a musical mystery, Gamboa notes, “but they approach it with such passion and joyfulness … that you end up going along for the wild ride and enjoying it.”
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