It's a great big world

Ok, I plead guilty to Boomer Bias.

I’ve been berating the quality of modern rock/pop for years now—especially in contrast to the rock pioneers (like, of course, The Beatles) who seemed to draw from a bottomless well of imaginative songs that appealed to both head and heart. But something strange is happening in the world of popular music today (especially in Indie Pop and Adult Alternative). The airwaves are suddenly overflowing with intelligent, heartfelt music! Exhibit A:

Two outstanding NY singer/songwriters, Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, joined forces in 2012 to form A Great Big World. They’ve already had one big hit, “Say Something” featuring Christina Aguilera (in one of her best—and most understated—performances). With the 2014 release of their first long-playing album—Is There Anybody Out There?—they’re about to find the answer to their question.

This duo displays a tail-wagging earnestness and innocence in their writing and singing that can appeal to the kid in all of us. Their wide-eyed, if quirky, idealism shines through in tunes like "I Really Want It," "Everyone Is Gay," and "This Is the New Year" (see video below). "We're all just trying to feel connected," they say. In a great big world of course.

Meanwhile, here's a few obvious business lessons to learn from this team. Easier to identify than implement, however.

    1. Start off with a catch-fire killer product. AGBW's first EP and LP have a trove of great songs, beautifully sung, with state-of-the-art production.

    2. Be original. In rock-and-roll-land that means having a unique appearance and sound. This nerdy looking, two-part harmonizing, passionately performing duo has a very distinct signature.

    3. Think big. These guys got vision. (And a light but gigantic heart, as shown in this next clip—which you don't want to miss.)

Stay tuned in the coming months for more examples from this new tide of rock/pop.

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  1. Yes, that video—“This Is the New Year”—is one of the more original (and uplifting) clips I’ve seen this year. And the "Say Something" vid with Aguilera is well done—and heart-breaking. (Click on the link in the second paragraph to watch it.) I think these guys will be around for awhile. Creativity + heart is a great combination.

    There will always be plenty of schlock but when I tune into the Adult Alternative channel, at least half the stuff I hear these days has good writing, singing, and playing. But most music videos today are painful to watch.

  2. Too bleeding heart ... overly sincere ... trying too hard. I thought they were kids entertainers when I first heard them. No irony here. Technically good singers backed by technically good musicians delivered to us with flawless audio and video production. Obviously their record label is investing heavily in them.

  3. Well, their target audience appears to be teens and young adults—which, come to think of it, was true of the top acts in the British Invasion of the 60s and in punk & New Wave of the 70s, etc. Makes sense to me.

    Their innocence/idealism may not be everybody’s cup of tea. This is not Songs For the Jaded. (I’ll listen to old Warren Zevon or Tom Waits tracks—or my own—to satisfy that itch.) But these guys are some of the best pure songwriters I’ve heard in awhile, based on their early efforts (like the three songs mentioned in this post). We don’t have much to go on, but their debut album is first-rate, by any criterion I can imagine.

    It’s also to their credit, not their detriment, that they've attracted top talent to them, aided in large part, I assume, by their record label. The artwork, packaging, video & audio production is high-grade, especially for an act at this stage of its career. But their talent earned them that quality support. Creatives attract other creatives. (A good business lesson.) I predict AGBW will continue to draw top talent to them—including other name performers who will want to record with them.

  4. Songs for the Jaded. Yeah, I like that category as well, but I spend about 80% of my listening time on happiness these days, as opposed to my crushingly depressed years where I had it the other way 'round.

    There is so much music out there now. Love seeing quality songwriting and production getting some attention. Acoustic by the campfire is great when it's great, but these guys benefit from the slick and polished approach.

    (Would an AGBW/Tom Waits collaboration cancel into silence?)

  5. May I point m'learned friends at several exhibits. "Trouble In Paradise" by La Roux. "From Scotland With Love" by King Creosote. "To The Bone" by Jones. All very wonderful and all Brits, of course, but your very own Braid returned recently with the terrifically noisy "No Coast." And maligned as they are, Coldplay's recent album wasn't half bad...

    1. I finally found time listen to these folks. Good stuff! I downloaded some La Roux and I like King Creosote. Couldn't find Jones. Braid is strange but interesting.

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