Review Summary: Ingrid Michaelson digs deep into her soul to create her most diverse record yet.
Ingrid Michaelson is easily the most honest and endearing artist in mainstream culture. Based out of Staten Island, she has the all-American feel from looks to musical standards. She is a pretty girl in every sense of the word but she also has a down-to-earth personality to boot. Michaelson is known in the past to display humility in spades during interviews and dabbles into a plethora of instruments without being a true master in any one. She is a simple artist to listen to, but she has enough to separate herself from the rest of the pack in the indie pop/folk genres.
Lights Out is her finest record to date, showing off more diversity than anything released in her twelve year career. The amount of instruments present on the album are almost endless compared to her mainstream counterparts. She emphasizes piano like most past releases, but guitars, bass, drums, strings, and horns are all over the album to add layers of sound. Production is also airtight, making for a clean listening experience from beginning to end. Writing is really where Lights Out knocks the package out of the park. There are poppy singles, blues-laden rockers, and somber tracks to create a diverse listening experience. The concept of the album is always evolving down the road of early relationships and getting through rough patches along way in the first half. To break a listener's heart only to lift it back up in the second half. This record is one of the more relatable love albums of the year, keeping a solid sense of authenticity from track one to fourteen.
All genres tackled in Lights Out have at least one interesting track worth diving into. As far as singles go, Girls Chase Boys and Time Machine are worthy candidates. Both of these tracks have really fun hooks throughout but the instrumentation is drastically different. Girls Chase Boys relies heavily on infectious drums and hopeful guitars. Time Machine decides to throw a heavy piano wall with booming drums slowly building in the background. Warpath is a real left hook on the album, being the most rock inspired of the group. There is a real bluesy-feel permeating from beginning to end, especially from the clapping and bass line that drive throughout. The chorus on Warpath is catchy upon one listen, but never gets boring with more listens. The real power on Lights Out is found on the somber tracks though. Wonderful Unknown is a beautiful track about moving toward the future with a significant other. The piano and booming drums punctuate the feeling of hopeful fear of what is coming next. "In the best way, you'll be the death of me" is the best lyric on the album by a miles also. Open Hands is the hardest hitting track, being driven by tragic piano work and saddening vocals from Michaelson. She really digs deep for this track and the emotional resonance and mood come through in spades.
The only times this record fails to run on all cylinders is when she abandons her more folk styling. You Got Me feels like a decent and slow modern country song, but the vocal mix between Michaelson and Storyman leaves a bit to be desired. Storyman doesn't have as intriguing a vocal range to mesh with her as a whole. One Night Town is clearly her attempt to create a modern pop hit but the song is too dull to take off. The poppy dance beat is fairly cookie-cutter for the genre and Mat Kearney's vocals add little to the mix. Lights Out is also too top-heavy of an album to be anything truly spectacular. The opening half of the album is excellent for the most part. The diversity in the first eight tracks makes for a worthwhile listen. The last six tracks are bit less interesting, settling for a slow alteration. These songs are fine to listen to but the slow tracks at the end never reach the heights of the earlier songs in the first half, causing the album to end on weaker set of notes.
Ingrid Michaelson pours her heart out to the world with Lights Out and the results are pretty effective. The first half of this record is one of the best eight track sequences of the year and the instrumentation Michaelson brings to the table shows off why she is better than her pop counterparts. Despite ending on weaker notes and vocal features that do not match up to her passion, Lights Out is her finest full-length yet.