Saturday, 19 April 2014

Album Review - Lights Out




LIGHTS OUT
by Ingrid Michaelson (out now)




Returning with her sixth studio album, Ingrid Michaelson shows us on Lights Out exactly why she's regarded as one of the best singer-songwriters making music today. I'm going to throw this out early... after many a repeated listen, this is definitely Michaelson's most engaging, ambitious and best album yet. Special guest stars pop in and out and new genres are explored (without departing completely from what we know and love) on an album comprising fourteen individual pop gems. And you totally know you're going to hear half of them on your favourite TV show over the next year or two. As someone who watches a lot of TV (please don't tell anyone how I live), this makes me very happy.


Lights Out opens with the bright, folk-pop sounds of 'Home'. At this point of her career, Michaelson has mastered the grand build-up in her songs. 'Home' begins with a steady drum beat and acoustic guitars framing Ingrid's central vocal and choral lines. As the song progresses, light synth touches enter, the drum's prominence increases and those choral lines explode around Michaelson. This is a great way to kick things off, slowly drawing you in as the excitement builds. 'Girls Chase Boys' is that quirky/catchy number that acts like Ingrid Michaelson and her friend/occasional collaborator Sara Bareilles like to throw at you. You might start off with some initial reservations, but it's just too gosh darn... adorable... to hate. Urgh, I'm trying to avoid 'adorable' and 'cute'. But it is what it is. Our first collaboration on Lights Out sees Michaelson joined by her husband Greg Laswell on 'Wonderful Unknown.' The strength of this one is in the writing. For a song that's fundamentally a happy one about love, you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for something else given the sorta-kinda gloomy, down vibe it gives off. I sort of dropped in and out of this one, but the repeated line, "in the best way you'll be the death of me," would always capture my attention completely. 




'Warpath' brings to mind recent 'woman-scorned' tracks like Adele's 'Rumour Has It' with its percussive focus and smokey, undeniably sexy vocal performance. Michaelson throws in some heavy guitar work for good measure. She should play with them more in the future. 'Time Machine' and 'One Night Town' keep the upbeat energy flowing and both will get stuck in your heads. Damn catchy tunes, always getting stuck in my head. The latter sees Michaelson team with Mat Kearney, another key name in a group of artists I like to call the Grey's Anatomy posse (alongside Laswell and Bareilles)... for their tunes will always appear at key moments on a television show to reinforce the breaking of your heart that's about to happen. Thankfully Kearney and Michaelson have chosen to spare us this time around. Actually, it would have probably been even better if they went for something depressing. Yeah, that would have been sweet. Taking a change of direction, the pace is slowed down for the next two tracks, 'Open Hands' and 'Ready To Lose', both of which feature Trent Dabbs backing Michaelson up. Putting the two together was a solid move and I mean both Dabbs and Michaelson performing together and placing the tracks together on the album. 'Stick' bridges the gap between the quieter moments and the following, anthemic 'Afterlife'. 'Afterlife is the big sing along moment on the album and that song that makes you want to run out and start living your life and achieve your dreams and seize the moment and.... are you picking up what I'm putting down? Can I stop now? Choosing to put it right before the album's great, big slice of heartbreak was a good choice. 




Now, when I'm about to listen to a new album by an artist that I'm a big fan of, I find it pretty hard to not go into that first listen without wanting something. And no, I don't mean I go in just wanting it to be awesome and the best thing ever, I usually want something specific. In the case of Lights Out I wanted a good 'ole heartbreaker of a piano ballad, complete with a nice string arrangement and Michaelson's sweet vocal melodies. I don't ask for much, right? This inability to put aside selfish expectations for a new album almost always leads to disappointment. Not this time! 'Over You' teams Michaelson with the two dudes from A Great Big World, fresh off their slice of piano-led heartbreaker-age, 'Say Something'. This collaboration ticked all the boxes for a song I was wanting to hear, with the added bonus of being a duet. "Maybe if I tell myself enough, maybe if I do, I'll get over you." The melody in those chorus lines, combined with the simple, rolling piano is just something else. I'm pretty sure the fella from A Great Big World that just stands around doing nothing in 'Say Something' gets to contribute in 'Over You' too, so good for him. A Great Big World's voices (Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino) circle around Michaelson's as the song heads to a suitably fitting finish. There's definitely single potential here.  


A sweet, final declaration of wanting to go where 'Everyone Is Gonna Love Me Now' sends us on our way and very likely straight back to the start of Lights Out. The final track matches the exciting slow build that was present in the first; beating drums, roaring chorus lines and some sweeping strings. It's awesome... Ingrid Michaelson is awesome. If you're a fan of your singer-songwriters, beautifully composed arrangements, strong storytelling and/or sexy librarian looking performers, you're going to be into Lights Out. And like I said, you might as well get into it now. You'll be loving one or more of the tracks on the TV before you know it. 


Matt Bond gives Lights Out four Shirley Manson heads out of five...   


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