Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Don't Be Blind, Find The Heart You Gave To Ingrid Michaelson's Girls And Boys!

The Good: Decent lyrics, Diverse sound, Moments of voice
The Bad: Repetitive, Shorter than I'd like, Moments the voice does not live up
The Basics: Another promising outing from a young voice that is clear and articulate is Ingrid Michaelson's Girls And Boys which establishes her as a rising star in the pop-folk world!

I don't - honestly - usually get my musical selections from commercials from The Gap. I swear. So, during the winter months, when one of the songs from a commercial for sweaters kept ringing in my ears, I actually decided to look it up. It turns out, that song on The Gap commercials with its trademark like "If you are chilly, here take my sweater. . ." is from "The Way I Am." That was the first single by Ingrid Michaelson, from her sophomore album Girls And Boys.

Yeah, I had a regular female empowerment shopping day at Barnes and Noble the day I finally found out who sang that song. After a lengthy discussion with the music department at the store, I ended up picking up the deluxe edition of Annie Lennox's Songs Of Mass Destruction, the deluxe edition of Sara Bareillies's Little Voice (reviewed here!) and Girls And Boys. I had been holding out for a long time before listening to this album, mostly because I wanted to share the first listen with a good friend of mine. That no longer being an option, I have had this album in high rotation the past three days. When I picked it up, the folks at Barnes And Noble said they had gotten sick of the Sara Bareilles album after the high rotation it was on in the store, but even though Michaelson's album had had about as much exposure in their department, they still thrilled to it each time it came on. So far, I tend to agree with that; I've unloaded my Bareilles and I'm still intrigued by Girls And Boys enough to know I'm keeping it around.

With only twelve tracks clocking in at 45:42, Girls And Boys does still seem to be very much the musical vision of Ingrid Michaelson. In addition to writing all of the songs, she plays piano and guitar as well as provide the primary vocals for each track. As well - one of the things I like to see in such a young artist - she is one of the album's co-producers, so it's pretty clear she maintained quite a bit of creative control over this outing.

And it's a worthy one. In fact, this is one of the more original albums I have heard in quite some time coming from such a young artist. Outside the opening track, "Die Alone," which comes on strong with guitar riffs and vocals easily reminiscent of the covered version of song and video "Build Me Up Buttercup" from the DVD Mallrats (reviewed here!).

Beyond that, Michaelson has a very pure and original sound, clearly establishing herself as a bold, new singer-songwriter. She has a strength that she sings about and sings with that is pretty impressive from one so young. She opens "Overboard," for example, with the defiant and self-actualized lines, "I could write my name by the age of three / and I don't need anyone to cut my meat for me. / I'm a big girl now, see my big girl shoes. / It'll take more than just a breeze to make me / Fall over, fall over, fall overboard, overboard. / Fall overboard just so you can catch me." It's wonderful because she bears a confidence that transcends the lyrics, which do become more romantic, though no less strong.

But Michaelson also has a strong sense of both the vulnerable and essentially human on songs like "Breakable." There, she is wrenching exploring the body and the emotional landscape with lines like, "Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts? / Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts. / So it's fairly simple to cut right through the mess, / And to stop the muscle that makes us confess. / And we are so fragile, / And our cracking bones make noise, / And we are just, / Breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys" ("Breakable"). The juxtaposition of the physical heart and the emotional fragility of which she sings works perfectly to establish a song that is memorable and distinct.

Despite the easy hooks of "The Way I Am," which is a beautiful little love song that deserves to be charting much better than it is (honestly, who couldn't love a song about being accepted for who one is?!), the complexity of "Glass" is what keeps me coming back to Girls And Boys. It's a powerfully-sung song with an opening that recounts a romance, before turning into something truly wrenching. I swear, everytime Michaelson sings, "And now we pass and just like glass / I see through you, you see through me like I'm not there. / You could make my head swerve. / Used to know my every curve. / And now we meet on a street, / And I am blind. I can not find the heart I gave to you" ("Glass"), I get a chill down my spine. She has the ability to evoke powerful imagery with very simple comparisons.

In fact, the only issue I have with any of the lyrics is that they are occasionally repetitive. Michaelson fills up many of the songs with a lot of repetition of key lines. Chief among these is "December Baby," which comes up late on the album and repeats its main line a lot. A lot.

Those concerned that this might be just chick music, I don't know what to say. Anyone who likes a strong feminine voice will find something to love on Girls And Boys. Michaelson sings clearly going effortlessly from alto all the way to some soprano notes on tracks like "Corner Of Your Heart." She has a breezy voice which makes "The Way I Am" so infectious and she can truly belt it out, as she does on the album's opener, "Die Alone."

Ingrid Michaelson does not seem to be an artist who is unwilling to take musical chances. Indeed, very few of the songs have evidence of vocal production. Instead, much of the album sounds like a very true and natural woman's voice and it works perfectly to accent Michaelson's message. It's a rare artist that can make everything she sings come out perfectly articulated, but Michaelson does that, even on "Masochist." She gets a little singsongy on "December Baby," but it works well enough.

Where Michaelson keeps the ear intrigued is in the music. Girls And Boys is not easy to classify because it has both strong guitar ("Die Alone") and strong piano-driven track (like "Overboard"). She alternates between the thrashing and the sublime, pairing mellow, almost-folk tracks like "The Way I Am" with more empowerment anthems like "Overboard." She is adept with the guitar, strumming away with "Highway" and seems equally comfortable with the piano on the tracks that use it.

Actually, my only wish after hearing Girls And Boys is to see Michaelson in concert. She seems like an artist who would do exceptionally well on a stage by herself or in small venues like coffee houses. She has a clear and strong voice that makes her accessible and because she seems to rely on very few production elements, her music seems like it would resonate well live. If there were a deluxe version with the album done in acoustic form, I'd definitely give it a shake!

As it is, Girls And Boys makes for an auspicious musical outing by a young artist who is enough to give listeners hope that not all talent is lost in the younger generation.

The best track is "Glass" (probably only because I'm melancholy right now, "The Way I Am" is pretty extraordinary, too!). The hidden bonus track - "Far Away" - is fun, but it feels like an afterthought in many ways.

For other works by Ingrid Michaelson, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Human Again


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the albums and singles are organized from best to worst!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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