Archive for February, 2012

Human Again, Indeed

February 29, 2012 - 5:22 pm No Comments

I’ve got my Ingrid Michaelson back.

I was not first on the Ingrid Michaelson boat. I was probably towards the very end, coming just before the people who recognized her as the singer on the apple juice commercial. But from the very moment I heard her music, her voice, her quirky piano riffs, I fell in love.

Ingrid Michaelson writes music which, at first, seems like it’s going to be piano-pop nonsense. It’s about love, it’s silly, it’s fun and upbeat. At first. But Ingrid doesn’t shy away from the gritty, shitty parts of life. Some of her songs, or even snatches of lyrics in otherwise typical songs, are totally out of the realm of traditional, flighty, girly piano-rock. A song from her self-released debut album Slow the Rain comes to mind. The song is called Porcelain Fists, and not only are the piano melodies incredibly dark, the lyrics are painful to hear:

“Locked in the bathroom stall/Your back against the wall/Cold tiles beneath your knees/Your body broke your fall/Spitting into your own reflection gazing back/Inside your porcelain fists, your palms begin to crack.”

The first time I heard that, I was won over. Everything I’d heard of Michaelson’s music up to that point was whatever Pandora had selected for me, and until I sought out her earlier music on my own, I would never have expected a lyric like that from what had initially seemed like songs that I would listen to, shall we say, in good fun.

So with tears in my eyes and my hands folded together, each hugging the other tightly, I declared myself an Ingrid fan and dove into her music head first.

Things were really good between Ingrid and I. I got to see one of her shows, for free, at that, when she performed at the Pittsburgh Arts Festival, and Be OK had some real gems on it.

Then, just a few days after my birthday in 2009, Ingrid released Everybody.

I’m gonna be really harsh here for a moment, okay?

I felt betrayed. I’d never heard a more wishy-washy, boring, flat album in my life. I didn’t know what had happened. We’d been through good times and bad, Ingrid and me, we’d talked about everything, no matter how embarrassing or pointless. We were going to buy everybody nice sweaters and teach them how to dance.

When I got to “The Chain,” I knew I’d found an album I really, really didn’t like. “The Chain,” when it was live on Be OK, was so blisteringly powerful I would put it on repeat and sob. It was that beautiful, that painful, that absolutely touching. But this new studio version on Everybody… It was limp. There was nothing to it. It wasn’t hand-crafted, it was machined. There are about four songs on Everybody I’ll even deign to listen to at this point (“Everybody,” “Soldier,” “Locked Up,” and “Maybe,” if you must know, which are incidentally the first two and last two songs on the album, which means, yes, I don’t listen to the entire middle of the album).

So when I heard Ingrid was in the studio again, I have to admit, I was… tentative. I followed her faithfully on Twitter and Tumblr, keeping up with the progress of the album, and reading her mailing list to see if she was playing any shows near me. But I held my breath.

On January 24th, 2012, Human Again was released.

I rejoiced.

The album is funny and smart, the 17 songs (the last four from the deluxe edition) borrow from just about as many genres, and there are those familiar touches of darkness that anyone who really wants to talk about life can’t shy away from. But it was that same, familiar, girly piano-pop, that same heavy lightness Ingrid had brought to me years before.

“Keep Warm” has got to be my favorite song from this album. It’s happy. It’s relateable. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel safe. Other notable tracks, at least to me, are the peppy “Blood Brothers,” and the heart-wrenching, bittersweet “I’m Through,” which was the first track I’d heard from the album, and the first time I knew everything would, pardon the expression, be okay.

Human Again screams Ingrid Michaelson. Though it’s got touches of rock, country, jazz, folk, it couldn’t be more original, more true to the woman that I slowly became familiar with through three albums three years ago. I wonder if the title speaks to that, a sort of coming back to herself, or if it’s just happy coincidence.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. What matters is I’ve got my Ingrid Michaelson back.

The Over-Producers

February 5, 2012 - 12:40 am 1 Comment

Maybe this is a feeling you’ve all had.

Maybe I’m just a pretentious bint.

But I hate music that sounds like it has a purpose.

You know what I’m talking about, you must. Music that was made to fit a sound. And I’m not talking about shitty pop music (though don’t get me wrong, a lot of shitty pop music does fall into this category). I’m talking about the bands who are so obsessed with the way they’re supposed to sound (she said, oozing disdain) that they forget they’re making music, and the music ceases to be for the music’s sake, and it becomes for the sound’s sake.

I’m not making any sense.

Let me give you an example.

The Hush Sound.

Oh, don’t get all up-in-arms, I actually like The Hush Sound. I like their weird folk cabaret hipster pop thing that they’ve got going on.

But I would love The Hush Sound if they weren’t so obsessed with sounding like a weird folk cabaret hipster pop band and just wrote songs that sounded like weird folk cabaret hipster pop. But they aren’t. It’s apparent in all of their full-length albums that the idea of the sound comes before the actual writing of the music. There are a few songs that really get me, songs that are just piano and a lonely vocal track, songs powerful enough to make me cry. Songs I love. And then the next song will come on and it’s all fun and bebop-y and I could love it. But it’s just not honest.

And I’m not just hating on The Hush Sound. I’ll throw Sara Bareilles, A Fine Frenzy, and even Editors (which is a band I really do enjoy) into this category.

I don’t know what studios produce these acts. I don’t care. I just know I can feel the studio when I listen to their music. I can smell it. I can taste it. And it tastes like sodium. Like high-fructose corn syrup. Maybe delicious, but fake, processed, and really not good for you.

It’s not bad music. Some of it is good music. Some of it is great music. But it’s false, and that’s what kills me. It’s putting the cart before the horse. It’s okay if you know how you want your song to sound before you write it, but when the whole of your music is shaped by the idea of the band you always wanted to be (or, if I’m allowed to be really cynical here for a moment, the idea of the music you want to sell), it’s time to take a step back, listen to your heart, and write something honest. Even if it’s not entirely what you thought it would be.

That might even be the point.