Review Summary: Confident, fragile.
Before the limelight, Ingrid Michaelson was just another girl trying to make it in New York City. She would busk in lower Manhattan, playing for hire at any local gig/open mic night that she could manage. It’s difficult now
to imagine that Ingrid ever would have experienced difficulty finding someone to sponsor her, but that’s exactly what happened with her humble debut, Slow the Rain
. She funded the record on her own, eventually publishing it under her own label in 2005. Currently, it remains something of an enigma. The record is not for sale digitally, exists only in the form of patchwork playlists on most streaming platforms, and is extremely scarce on physical disk. Basically, it’s a hipster’s white whale.
If you’re fortunate enough to procure a copy of this album – or perhaps just to stream it – one of the first things you’ll notice is the relative absence of acoustic guitars, ukuleles, and drums. Slow the Rain
came before Ingrid’s sound got injected with the kind of pop tendencies that often come with being signed to a major label, but even for a raw debut the record is still pretty stripped. The experience is mostly piano driven, leaving a large void for Ingrid's vocals to fill. She rises to the challenge with exceptional flow and grace, using her top-tier songwriting skills to make it all work. Slow the Rain
succeeds on the strength of its ideas and melodies, giving us a series of meticulously crafted pop songs that sound like they were intended for a small audience – and probably were.
The sun had painted patterns on your face
As you breathed Sunday air, you rolled onto my open arm
I became your pillow
These nine tracks offer us a glimpse of Michaelson at her most vulnerable. She often pauses, using flourishes of stunning, cascading piano notes to drive home an emotional verse such as, “when those sad eyes start to close, nobody knows where is it she goes.” The lyrics tend to come from the perspective of an introvert; a woman inside of her own head too often. On the opener ‘Let Go’, she laments “I never know what to do with my love…I never know what to do with my hands, so I'll put them behind my back”, indicating that, like someone who is unsure of what to do with her hands while talking, Ingrid doesn’t know what to do with the love that she feels – so it gets “put behind her back”, or in other words buried and ignored. ‘Around You’ follows that up with a confession of unrequited love, in which she admits “I call you my friend”, but then proceeds to ask herself “why do I have to pretend to find ways to be around you.” This gorgeous, melodic love song culminates in the final line “My feet don't touch the ground when I'm around you.” She tends to sing softly, almost as if she’s afraid of her words breaking free from her mental grasp. Slow the Rain
is an album that resides in that sort of headspace; romantically-inclined, but always hesitant.
Fans of Ingrid Michaelson’s contemporary indie-pop likely won’t be shocked by the quality of her seldom-heard debut. Her songwriting prowess has always been her greatest asset, even where instrumental ability has been lacking or learned along the way. Slow the Rain
offers a set of astoundingly well-conceived tracks, with some of her most personal and poetic lyrics to boot. It’s an album that feels paused in a very specific moment – this still frame of a drab April afternoon gazing through a rain-soaked window, suspended halfway between love and depression. It’s a beautiful mess.
In the dreary gray
Of another day
You are far away and I am blue