On Ingrid Michaelson

Now I know this album is long past relevant for most, but to me Ingrid Michaelson’s 2007 release Boys and Girls still stirs that undefinable something inside which music is supposed to unsettle. Maybe it’s just that I was going through a way pivotal time in my life when I first listened to the album on a daily loop, or maybe it’s something more implicit to Michaelson’s unapologetic honesty and her songwriting ability. I’m hoping it’s the later so that this post isn’t entirely in vain.

Michaelson’s songs on her second release distill the complexity of heartbreak into such effortlessly poignant music that I almost feel inspired to try my own hand at songwriting whenever I listen to them. She makes it seem so easy to turn stories of love and love lost into a resonant and coherent album. Although her songs make reference to the specifics of Michaelson’s own relationships and heartbreaks, from too-small hand-knitted hats to jokes about Rogaine, implicit in each and every quirky lyric is the understanding that anyone who has ever been in a relationship shares certain universal emotions and experiences. Her songwriting is thoughtful but playful, demonstrating a witty intelligence that is never self conscious or takes itself too seriously.

Though “Breakable” isn’t the most remarkable cut from this album, I still can’t quite get over the verse “Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts?/Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts/So it’s fairly simple to cut right through the mess/And to stop the muscle that makes us confess.” I think this lyric sets the tone for the entire album, offering a theme of sorts about the delicacy of our hearts and the myriad ways in which they can be broken and repaired.

“The Hat” is Ingrid’s reflection on first love, her own being a winter romance that she struggles to remember in its ending. She captures all the bitter-sweetness of a first love, of feeling impossibly special and carefree when you initially find yourself in love with someone, of the tenderness and wonder you will always hold for that person tinged with the sadness that he or she will likely just remain a memory: “I have come to learn I’ll only see you interrupting my dreams at night/And that’s alright.” It’s a song about coming to terms with the fact that first loves do end. But Michaelson recognizes the vital importance of letting someone know just how much they figured into your life story, even if they have long fallen out of the plotline. I can’t think of a better word to encapsulate that type of feeling than “fondness” and Ingrid gets it just right.

And then there’s “Glass” which reflects on a different type of lost love, one shaded by regret and hurt. I doubt there are many song lyrics more gut-wrenching and on the mark than “I am blind/I can not find the heart I gave to you.” The austerity and simplicity of these lines (obviously a skill with words that I have yet to master) contains a whole host of emotions that are impossible to ignore when you lose yourself so completely in another person that you can’t even figure out who you are. It’s a very cinematic song, the type I would envision as score in a movie during a scene when a woman leaves her lover and begins to gain strength in moving on.

By far my favorite track is “Starting Now,” a break up song about committing to a new start even when you still long for someone. Before the song crescendos to the point where Ingrid wishes she never even met her scorned lover, she sings about the lengths to which she would go to rid herself of the man that so badly damaged her life, ie wanting to “crawl back inside my mother’s womb” and “burn the sheets that smell life your skin.” Something about driving around and singing this song at the top of your lungs until your throat is so sore you can barely speak is really satisfying after your heart has been trampled on. Thanks for giving me those moments of rage and recovery, Ingrid!

Contrary to what I seem to be portraying, there are more than sad, angst-y break up songs to be found on Boys and Girls, but I think these songs shine a little bit more. That’s not surprising to me; I think happiness is much harder to capture in a moving way and much harder to be moved by. We all want someone to share our sorrows and listening to Ingrid makes me feel like I’m hashing it out with a best girlfriend. I’ve laughed and cried and danced and sung along to all twelve tracks back in the day and still find myself moved to do the same when I listen now, even from a happier and more settled place in my romantic life. And while I recognize that certain pieces of art will feel particularly timeless to an individual person because of whatever they were going through in their life when said art was first encountered, I believe that Boys and Girls represents something a bit more widely universal.

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