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Ingrid Michaelson avoids genre busting

By Jingyuan Fu
On April 16, 2014

Genre busting has become a musical trend these days, particularly among female pop stars searching for a more mature sound. Very rarely do these efforts truly succeed, however - far too often the artist simply just slaps on some superficial changes and calls it a day. Luckily, Ingrid Michaelson's newest album Lights Out avoids such laziness, producing a unique blend of innovative music that explores new lyrical themes.
Gone are the bouncy, syrupy songs of the past, to be replaced by a smoother sound that relies more on careful construction of background music. The album starts off with the song "Home," which has obvious synth-pop influences, but is also layered with drums, flutes and harmonies that complement and emphasize the strengths in Michaelson's voice. "Home" is followed by "Girls Chase Boys," the album's only single so far, which owes more to the dance music style but retains Michaelson's older themes on love.
Michaelson then proceeds with "Wonderful Unknown," one of the more daring songs in the album by far. Musically, the song sounds almost like a Beatles single, and the lyrics are about self-discovery and plunging into the indefinite. It's obvious that losing her voice for a few months in 2013 has both affected Michaelson's outlook on life and her vocal style, which now sounds darker and more robust in contrast to the previous airy tones. Themes of exploration are continued in the next song "You Got Me," which features a guest performance by Storyman. Guest artists have become more and more prevalent in recent years, but Michaelson uses them effectively in her album, so they complement the music instead of acting as mere gimmicks.
The album continues with "Warpath," a song that begs to be performed in concert, "Handsome Hands" and "Time Machine," which has a fiery sound backed by a saxophone that underscores how this album departs from Michaelson's previous style. Songs like "One Night Town" (a duet with Mat Kearney), "Open Hands" and "Ready to Lose" may be more familiar to older fans, as they are very much retread on older themes on love and heartbreak, but "Afterlife" and "Over You" reveal yet another facet of Michaelson's exploratory style with a rich power ballad.
The last song, "Everyone is Gonna Love Me Now," is another piece that is more reminiscent of the older albums, but Michaelson has already made her versatility clear in the previous songs. By creating a unique but harmonious blend of older and newer themes and styles, and collaborating with a variety of songwriters and singers, Lights Out has done what few albums can. It showcases aspects of Michaelson's hidden talent while also retaining the more familiar styles so older fans do not feel alienated. The result is a genuinely brave effort that will attract listeners everywhere.

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