Michel Ackermann has two things in his piano pop that set him aside: he’s German, and he comes from a classical piano background. The fact that he’s from Berlin comes out in his unique vocal intonations; the fact that he’s from a classical piano background has a grounding effect on his tunes.
While talented as a pianist, the Kite EP is not an EP of classical piano with pop melodies. This is a distinct effort by a classical pianist to compose in the pop idiom. It mostly goes well; there are moments that he just sounds like your average piano-playing pop star. But that’s an ambiguous goal; if he’s got chops that he’s not using, I’d like to see him bust them out. “I’d Rather Be With You” definitely is informed by his classical upbringing, as it just doesn’t feel like a regular pop song, but it’s hard to put the finger on why. He’s trying to separate his background from his presentation, and that’s just not possible. It makes tracks like “I’d Rather Be With You” sound conflicted at best.
“Our Love” plays up his jazz roots, and he embraces the fact that he can play the piano really well. Instead of alienating the listener (as I can only imagine would be the impetus for effacing his probably expert chops), it brings the listener in; the neat piano turns and riffs make the song very interesting. It’s one of the best songs here, because he just throws the throttle wide open and does what comes naturally to him. I would like to see a lot more of this; the guarded attempts at making safer pop songs are successful, but not nearly as engaging or giddy as “Our Love.”
Ackermann’s vocals are fitting and worthy. His pronunciations are sometimes peculiar, which is more of a charm than a detractor. The best use of his vocals are on “Back on the Road,” where he has a unique rhythm to the lyrics in the chorus, and he uses the dramatics of his voice very well. “Our Love” shows him kicking it wide open, going for notes that he doesn’t attempt other places and pretty much nailing them. Again, “Our Love” is the winner.
The accompanying band in the EP is solid, but not too much to write home about. The piano/keys are the star here, and although there are nice contributions by strings and bass guitar especially, it’s still definitely back-up to the songwriting. They don’t contribute as distinct elements of the songwriting.
Ackermann’s Kite EP is a good start. It establishes his particular idiom, lays down some good tracks, and leaves room to grow in the sound. He has some things to address, but they’re not deadly flaws. In short, Ackermann has a future ahead of him if he can grow in his sound. If he stays where he’s at, his future is murky at best.