Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ingrid Michaelson a songsmith of crafty, challenging pop

By Jon Jacobs

January 23 2008 | For those of you who joined the other 38 million viewers in watching the 2006 season finale of Grey's Anatomy, you may have picked up on the tune Keep Breathing that played during the closing sequences. The song, written especially for the finale, was actually the fourth track the sitcom had featured from singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson.
In the weeks following the finale Michaelson would be featured as an up-and-coming artist on stations such as MTV and VH1, as well as on spots for Old Navy commercials. As sales of her independently recorded and released album Girls and Boys increased beyond anything her label had anticipated, one thing was becoming clear: Grey's Anatomy had made Ingrid Michaelson a household name.

As with all indie-rocker-gone-stage-stars, major labels picked up on the success of Michaelson's then year old album, seeking a share in the growing market of her music. In a truly "indie" move, Michaelson opted to maintain her own label as the proprietor and owner of the music, while using the publishing company, RED Distribution to distribute her music to a larger audience.

Considering the vast number of artists that are featured on television shows that reach popularity, and the subsequently horrid music they go on to produce, the very fact that Girls and Boys doesn't suck is very nearly a miracle in and of itself. The album kicks off with Die Alone, a near-dissonant combination of vocal melody and crunched guitars that call to mind modern artists such as KT Tunstall and Amy Winehouse. Challenging pop music in today's world? In short, yes.

The album shifts direction with Breakable, a piano structured track that lacks all of the confidence and puissance of the previous tracks as she sings, "We are so fragile and our cracking bones make noise and we are just breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys." Though lyrics detailing the fragility of love and human nature have been written countless times by just about every emo band you can think of, very rarely are they delivered with such moving and immediate prudency.

Unsurprisingly, Girls and Boys has its fair share of love songs, some of which are actually very – dare I say - cute. The first single, and possibly the catchiest track on the album, The Way I Am could very easily find its way onto a "NOW, that's what I call Music" compilation with lyrics such as "If you were falling than I would catch you. You need a light? I'd find a match. Cause I love the way you say 'good morning,' and You take me the way I am:" Both adorable and yes, actually very musically rewarding.

Herein lies the secret to Michaelson's music; she drapes her often-arduous vocal melodies in sweet butter-pop production and song structure. Think Regina Spektor, but laced with guitars and modern post-production, mimicking the bizarre and juxtaposed nature of her music, but in a slightly calmer and more accessible setting. And, like Spektor, the pay-off is extremely edifying.

Taken as a whole, Girls and Boys is a very enthralling debut, with some moments of authentic ingenuity. Her songs are enjoyable, but not in the ten-listens-and-you're-done sort of way that most modern pop music tends to follow. Even after repeated listens, the songs sound new and fresh each time, yielding another vocal or piano line that you could have sworn wasn't there before.

If you can get over the peculiar structure of the music, Girls and Boys is a brilliant piece of work.

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