Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Review: Stranger Songs • Ingrid Michaelson

Ingrid Michaelson was once known for quaint music played exclusively in common areas: Acoustic strings, unprocessed vocals and easygoing drumbeats resulted in innocent music for grocery stores and coffee shops. Her first handful of records were proud of their do-it-yourself vibe, with one boasting a live cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” – the most important song in the repertoire of any white person with a ukulele. But that Ingrid Michaelson seems to be gone now, and in her place stands a woman with bigger visions for folk-pop.

Her 2014 record Lights Out discovered perhaps the sweetest spot between her acoustic spirit and adult contemporary pop. The follow-up, It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense, fell more low-key, despite being introduced with the unabashed “Hell No.” On her newest effort, however, she gives pop music her most convincing try yet. Stranger Songs, a short set of tracks inspired by Netflix’s newest cult classic Stranger Things – but not to the point of alienation toward listeners who aren't fans of the show – is the tamest attempt at the low-fi ‘80s aesthetic since Taylor Swift jump-started the trend with 1989.

Album highlights "Missing You" and "Freak Show" are nearly unrecognizable as Ingrid Michaelson originals, slathered over with thumping digital drums, vocoders and soft synthesizers; feminist power-hour "Pretty" leans into a sensual swing; and one step even further, "Jealous" goes for a minimalist beat drop. Although adorned with ornate production tactics, her songwriting is still rooted in an understated demeanor: Even when "Hey Kid" and "Take Me Kid" try to reach anthemic heights, they are still not as explosive as they deserve to be. But Stranger Songs is far from a static record – it pushes long-standing boundaries for Ingrid Michaelson just enough, displaying a good level of comfort in doing so.

Stranger Songs is available now under Cabin 24 Records.

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