Posts Tagged ‘songs’

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 Art of the Mixtape

January 3, 2012 - 9:36 pm 2 Comments

Let me tell you.

There is a hell of a lot more to making a mixtape then just throwing some songs together.

I talk about music a lot on this blog, because it’s always been a major part of my life. From the time I was born, it was more to me than just melodies and lyrics. My dad is a guitarist; my mom played the piano. Both of them are very, shall we say, musically active; they keep up with new stuff, they take an active interest in knowing what’s out there, they still go to shows. Hell, I take them to shows. They even named me after a song. They played music for me in the cradle, everything from Black Sabbath to The Beatles to Bach. I knew how to work a record player before I knew how to work a microwave. (I’m still not entirely sure why a microwave has so many options. If it’s that difficult, put it on the stove.)

Now that I’m older, to repay them, for my parents I make mixtapes.

As gifts for my nearest and dearest friends, I make mixtapes.

When I’m feeling bored or sad or lonely I make mixtapes.

But there is so much more than just throwing a bunch of tracks together.

Mixtapes are something that should be crafted with purpose: an idea pops into your head and you think you could show someone exactly what you mean with music; you hear a song that doesn’t just remind you of another song, it speaks to you about another song; a time in your life is defined by a series of tracks you can’t ever hear again without thinking about that moment, and you can’t ever think about that moment without hearing those songs. Mixtapes are like chapters in books that make up our lives; they’re the narration, not the soundtrack, and all we do is following along. Giving someone a mixtape, a well thought-out mixtape, is a gift that speaks to thoughtfulness and concern and shared emotions and memories.

When you make a mixtape, every song has to say something. It could be musically or lyrically, but it has to be part of a consistent flow. One off song can ruin the entire mix. A truly successful mixtape should go so smoothly from song to song you hardly realised the track changed, but should hold you so captive you wait and watch for each song to pass to the next.

When you make a mixtape, you have to think like you’re writing a paper. You need an introduction, and then you need a thesis statement. You need supporting information but you can’t be redundant. You need a conclusion supported by the information you’ve just given, and more than that, you need each paragraph to be in the right order. And then, if you’re feeling really, very confident, you can say something clever in closing that’ll stick with the reader – or in this case, the listener – even after they’ve reviewed the paper and moved on. Even after they’ve taken their headphones off and walked away.

A mixtape, all on its own, all by itself, with no additional media, should convey a message.

It should create an environment, or a moment, or a relationship, inside your head.

It should be one, whole, complete entity.

A mixtape is not just a collection of similar tracks thrown together.

A mixtape is a collaboration on the part of artists and one independent adjudicator, working together without ever speaking.

A mixtape is powerful and meaningful and beautiful.

A mixtape, when properly constructed, is a work of art.


Someone whose mixtape-creating ability I have always respected is William the Bloody, formerly of William’s Bloody Hell. You can now find him on his Twitter, still making awesome mixes. He sent me two for Christmas. Don’t let me forget, I owe him.

Lately I’ve been exchanging a lot of mixtapes with MannequinneHands. You can see a little of her work on her 8tracks account. Her mixtapes are so carefully crafted. They’re utterly magical.

If you want to see some of my own mixtapes, you’re more than welcome to check out my 8tracks, where I am Paperclippe as per usual. I’ve been adding about one a week, on average, and I always update old mixes when I hear something new that belongs.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received was a mixtape from @wackfiend. I put it on on New Year’s Eve and I’m pretty sure it made my year.

If you’re asking yourself what an 8tracks is, you should really go to http://8tracks.com and check it out. It’s the rebirth of mixtapes as we know it, especially for people who are a) too broke to buy blank CDs or b) make mixtapes too long to fit on CDs or c) want to share a mix with someone instantly. I am all three of those things. Even if you don’t make your own mixes, it’s worth a look just to see what other people create. It’s also an amazing way to discover new music in a more personal way than something like Pandora or last.fm, and I’ve found it’s also a hell of a lot more accurate. You can never substitute the human touch entirely.

So go on. Get mixing. Make some art.