A More Commercial Michaelson
Ingrid Michaelson is best known in the indie singer-songwriter community for her stripped down piano cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” a one man band take on Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” and beautifully simple songs like “The Chain” from her 2009 album “Everybody.” Additionally, if you were tuned in to primetime at any given point in 2007, her song “The Way I Am” was indelibly ingrained in your head by the Old Navy commercials — “If you are chilly/ Here, take my sweater.”
Michaelson’s most recent album, “Lights Out,” starts off with her ballad roots, showcasing her melodic vocal riffs, but expands to follow the trend of more popularized female indie artists by incorporating more up-tempo percussion, rhythmic bass lines, and trading acoustic guitars for an electric alternative. “Warpath” demonstrates what would not have been expected from Michaelson in the past. One might compare this new vibe to the sounds of ZZ Ward (if you haven’t listened to her yet, do it right now), with her sultry vocals, claps and a grooving bass line. The beginning of “Handsome Hands” brings to mind Ellie Goulding, with high pitched “oohs” and mysterious synths, and then an iconic surf guitar strum that adds some rather unexpected trumpets toward the chorus. “Stick” is uncannily similar to Sara Bareilles’ style, with its catchy lyrics and pop piano that starts out softly, and then builds up to booming drums.
“Lights Out” also features a slew of collaborating artists. On “Open Hands” and “Ready to Lose,” Trent Dabbs adds male vocal harmonies to Michaelson’s trademark piano ballads. The addition of strings allows for more dramatic dynamics and gives a more rounded out sound to these songs in keeping with the emotional intensity of the lyrics. “Wonderful Unknown,” with Greg Laswell, is lyrically reminiscent of Michaelson’s earlier work — it’s peppy, repetitive, and tends to follow the musical blue print that she’s laid out for the rest of “Lights Out.” A Great Big World (known best for “Say Something”) lends vocal harmonies to “Over You,” achieving instrumental clarity on an artfully composed duet — probably one of the best tracks on the album despite the somber tone of the lyrics.
Michaelson seems to be breaking away from the cutesy Zooey Deschanel-esque brand that she made for herself with her previous albums (in tracks such as “The Way I Am” and “Everybody”), even though the adorable factor landed her Target and Coca Cola ads. Yet “Lights Out” is still arguably commercial, fitting the molds of what’s been working for other pop artists who started as “indies,” and thus is still a marketable sound, just lyrically less universal than before. “Lights Out” is really Michaelson breaking away from the pack of “this generation’s Carole King” singer-songwriters and putting her own spin on the indie pop trend.
All in all, “Lights Out” is a solid album that showcases Michaelson’s transition into a more mature and versatile artist for a wider audience.
ONLY RECOMMENDED IF: You like Sara Bareilles, Feist, ZZ Ward, and or Carole King.