Ingrid Michaelson, Human Again
Born to a composer and sculptor in StatenIsland, N.Y., Ingrid Michaelson began playing piano when she was 4. Sheparticipated in vocal groups and studied theater until she self-produced her first album in 2005, called “Slow the Rain.” The 33-year-oldinitially gained exposure by playing on soundtracks for television shows like Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill. She became one of the top ofindie artists in 2007 with the single “The Way I Am,” made popular by thatOld Navy clothing advertisement that never stopped playing. After the hit single from her 2006 album Girls and Boys, Michaelson churned out 2008’s Be OK and 2009’s Everybody. Inaddition to her own work, she collaborated with artists like William Fitzsimmons, Sara Bareillesand Greg Laswell. Now, the indie-pop singer-songwriter returns to her music with the raw, breezy new album Human Again.
Michaelson isn't just the heartbroken ukulele and piano-playingsweetheart anymore. She has her usual poise, lightness and grace, but with a fresh edge. Human Again ranges from emotional ballads like “I’m Through” toaudacious pop songs such as “Black and Blue.” Still, Michaelsonoften drifts toward cliché, through redundant songconstruction and metaphors of brokenness and triumph.
Although she doesn’t seem to have as many broken bones and woundedhearts this time, she has her fair share of dying pieces, openheart surgeries and broken-hearted collapses onto knees. It may makelisteners wonder just how much damage a person can survive—and how manysimilar metaphors and chord progressions they can handle. In “This isWar,” she marvels at her own triumph over these battles of the heart: It's a wonder at all that I'm alive / It's a wonder at all that I'm still standing / It's a wonder at all that I survived the war / Between yourheart and mine / I won't surrender. Meanwhile, she sings about beingburned by a relationship in “Fire”: Heart attack up yoursleeve / You can make me believe / That I will grow from the ground / Afteryou burn me down / Now I'm walking into fire with you.
Despite theoveruse of metaphors and repetition, songs like“Palm of Your Hand,” “Blood Brothers” and the single “Ghost” stillcontain Michaelson’s unabashedly catchymy-life-is-a-mess-right-now-but-I’m-still-resilient-and-peppy style. She certainly seems to have maintained an optimistic outlook onlife in Human Again, a mood consistent with her fourprevious albums.
Michaelson’s band consists of singer-songwriters Allie Moss, Bess Rogers and her husband onguitars, Chris Kuffner on bass, Saul Simon-MacWilliams on keyboards andElliot Jacobson on drums. The group backs up the album with soaring harmonies and innovation. Human Again strays from the expected insongs like “In the Sea,” which brings out some of the creative diversity on the album. The in-your-face melody sings, No, no don’t rescue me/ I likethe salt water sting/ it feels so good just to feel something in the sea, insinuating Michaelson may not be the type to fall overboard forthe sake of being saved. On this, “End of the World”and “Black and Blue,” she has developed a new penetrating sound similarto fellow piano-pop artists Regina Spektor and Feist.
Michaelson’s empathetic tone is made clear in the radio friendly “Blood Brothers.”The simple lyrics and flowing melody seek to connect all of humanity,despite peoples’ differences. What you need / I need too / What you are Iam too / 'Cause we're all the same under a different name / We're all bloodbrothers. One of the most lyrically and emotionally impacting songs is“How We Love.” Michaelson’s bare voice is accompanied by peacefulguitar and soft humming, crooning, We hate the rain when it fills up ourshoes / But how we love when it washes our cars / We love to love when itfills up the room / But when it leaves, oh, we're cursing the stars. Thelyrics unpretentiously sum up the love and hatred of humanity in onesimple chorus.
Despite the often overly-used metaphors, Michaelsonhas a deep understanding of human nature and a knack for seeing straight into the heart. Ultimately, Human Again is a successful reminderthat even with all messes it creates, humanity is a beautiful thing.