After listening to Ian Axel’s latest release, This Is The New Year, it’s not difficult to understand how the piano has been his best friend throughout his life. His first release since his 2006 debut EP I’m On To You has every single track either bouncing on a mattress, sitting with head in hand on the edge of the bed, or leaning back in hand-to-chin contemplation atop a duvet of piano driven tunes.
The moods from this album range from upbeat radio pop to love-laden immature whimsy to fun-loving “fireworks and rainbows” flavoured pop-rock. The obvious comparisons to Ben Folds, Elliot Smith and even Ben Kweller can’t be avoided here, but if you can get by the clichéd themes, the piano-friendly engulfing atmosphere, and the sickly-sweet aura that drapes the majority of these tunes, you’re left with a passable but not over-exasperating piece of piano-led pop.
The title track, “This Is The New Year,” is easily the album’s most impressive track. It’s a pushy, foot-thumping, bass-drum kicking pop beauty with piano as the backdrop, and Axel’s positive message of the hope and aspirations that may come in the new year hop infectiously through the ambitious rhythm. It’s here that Axel sounds his most professional. The tune is catchy, the lyrics are easy to remember and the song hits hard from the first listen.
Other offerings are just so-so, like “Leave Me Alone” or “Girl Got A Thing,” but “Waltz” sees Axel mixing a relatively novel piano flow to some springy yet wispy lyrics pulled by his smiling lines of “bump-ba-dump” here and there. Exciting, energetic and colourful, this song is a highlight thanks to the feel of Axel’s personality in its wavy song structure.
To counter that comes “Say Something,” a Phil Collins-ish love song complete with a sombre, slow metronomic piano pulse in the background. It leaks a bit of Axel’s songwriting prowess and foreshadows the potential of a sincere artist that may be only a few albums away.
This Is The New Year, as a complete package, isn’t exactly disappointing—but it isn’t something that hasn’t been heard before, especially when one has delved into the past decade and a half of music that mirrors this style and ambiance.
Fans of his first EP will love it, and certainly there’s enough meat here to allude to more compelling works in the future. Most newcomers, however, are likely to walk away from This is The New Year thinking, “Heard this, done that.”