Review Summary: Ingrid Michaelson: most charismatic breakthrough artist of 2006.
At a time when independent pop circumvented the department of mainstream radio, Ingrid Michaelson burst onto the scene with her charming and folksy take on the genre. At first she was just another unknown artist singing to a seemingly absent audience, but later she became the mastermind behind 2006's most endearing hit, "The Way I Am." Granted, most of the charm came from its cutesy nature - either that or the universal lyrics and their portrayal of Michaelson's evident positivism - but it was concise and catchy pop music. Thankfully it avoided the stigma of other radio mainstays at the time with its resemblance to Norah Jones, but it wasn't out there
either. Yes, it's hard to believe that a song which limited itself to a clear, uplifting voice, an acoustic guitar, and some other additives could be so well-received by the hit-hungry audience which had rose Michaelson to fame. Their tastes seemed to be polar opposites, but that only attests to Michaelson's charm. No matter how many University amphitheaters or coffeehouses she sauntered into, she simply couldn't break free from her single, which led many to ask "is the rest of her album as good?"
To make a somewhat complicated answer more simplistic, let's put it this way. For those who adored the aforementioned single, there's much of the same to be found, as each piece revolves around honey-sweet vocals, pop harmonies, and acoustic folk characteristics. Also, Girls and Boys
has that same turn-of-phrase lyrical style about it; as well as that, each song portrays the album's theme: the life and times of... what else..? girls and boys. However, for those who found "The Way I Am" to be too sweet, childish, or simple, you'll have much more to despise (even though it could only be a sad, sad soul who‘d find much fault in it).
So "The Way I Am," is really the only way that Michaelson is. She hides behind no mirrors, no pretenses, no holier-than-thou facades, and is all the better for it. She isn't some college kid who was more obsessed with geographical features than real problems, and she doesn't complain about the lack of relevance that was associated with the ever so controversial and essential Oxford comma. No, she's naked and heartfelt. That's all.
But that's not just lyrically, of course; Michaelson's songs are a mash of bucolic folk and entertaining indie pop, with just enough trimmings of other genres to keep it interesting, but focused all the same. She's got a knack for twisting piano-pop (without sounding the slightest bit cheesy), and she's intelligent enough to realize when to liven things up a bit. She alters time signatures on "Masochist," but the end result is still simplistic and accessible. Similarly, the guitars on "Die Alone" fade out midway through the affair, giving the listener an unexpected treat. But still, a lot of Michaelson's appeal comes from her charm; she can balance the austere with the popular, the technical with the incredibly catchy, and still, she can portray a childish stance on universal struggles.
Throughout Girls and Boys
Michaelson's ability to do just this makes her more charismatic than she already is. One minute ("The Way I Am") her voice sounds mature, but the song itself resembles the relaxed introspect of an intelligent sixteen-year-old girl. But to see the most exaggerated form of her puerility, one needs to look no further than "Breakable." Her voice is youthful (think a far more talented Joanna Newsom), but her message is one which people that age probably couldn't comprehend. Indeed, it seems more like Michaelson is a child who's innocently questioning love, as does the rest of the album. But don't worry Michaelson, we still love you the way you are.