From Ingrid MichaelsonNo Albums Currently Available
To say Ingrid Michaelson is prolific is an understatement:In just a decade, she has released six albums (five of which have charted) and ten singles (eight charted). But to say she’s an emotional multitasker? That’s a relatively new accomplishment for her. The love’s-labors-lost banger “Hell No,” is her first single in a year. It’s also surprisingly playful. Because over the past two years, Michaelson has grappled with not only the personal and familial sickness chronicled in her previous album, Light’s Out, but also the death of her mother and demise of her marriage. For some, it can take a lifetime to navigate the stages of so much grief. But Michaelson did it in record time.
Her new album, the aptly named It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense (Cabin 24/RED), is a powerfully honest time capsule of her undoings and rebirths. “Allowing myself to not try to make everything make sense was freeing for me,” she explains the New York-based singer. “Life doesn’t always make sense.”
Previously, her glass-half-full outlook served her richly. It started with beautiful, idiosyncratic creations such as “The Way I Am” (2007) and “Maybe” (2009), songs that have breathed life into everything from Grey’s Anatomy to an Old Navy ad and made a mark on the singles charts. The momentum never waned. Her last two albums, Human Again and the more contemplative Lights Out both hit No. 5 on the Billboard charts.
Though her last album teemed with melancholia, she introduced it with the uplifting hit “Girls Chase Boys.” (It ended up being her highest Billboard Hot 100 single since “The Way I Am.”) Similarly, the joyful “Hell No” is a gateway to the all-parts-of-the-buffalo It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense. “There are heart-wrenching songs on it, but some are just fun for fun’s sake,” she says. “You can choose the path of darkness or you can choose the path of light. The record reflects a positive motion.”
Co-written with Nashville songwriter Luke Laird—who also contributed to the back-porch party “Celebrate,” her album’s other contact high—“Hell No” is essentially a country song gussied up as a pop song. “It’s about an angry woman who is going to leave this cheating man,” she says. “The lyrics are not about a specific relationship—it’s about 5 or 6 different ones, culled together.” Lest you take her message too seriously, Michaelson is in rare form in the video: She can be found modeling all the face-morphing Lenses that Snapchat has to offer. (The vibrant spot also hints at her side projects: a TV pilot she’s co-written and is shopping now and her upcoming feature film debut --“Humor Me,” Sam Hoffman's directorial debut, also starring Elliott Gould, Jemaine Clement, Bebe Neuwirth, Erich Bergen and Annie Potts.)
“I think on Light’s Out, I was learning how to let people in,” she says. “This time around, I kind of knew what I was getting into. I was just going into songwriting in such a different way—I was so unguarded.” Which was a particularly gutsy leap of faith, since so much of It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense, being inspired by her mom, is so close to her.
“Light Me Up” is, hands down, the rawest wound on the album. Penned in late 2014, just a week after her mother’s death, the fluttering song is a snapshot of her anguish, warts and all. “These are fresh, in-the-middle-of-the nightmare vocals,” she says. “That song came from a place of wanting to see her again, not really understanding where she’s gone.” Rendering it live will be painful, “But,” clarifies Michaelson, “I’ll never write a song that I don’t want to sing over and over again.”
What she probably didn’t anticipate was her grief sparking a surge in creativity. “I have odder pieces of music that I put on the record,” she says. “It would be a lie to say that I didn’t care. But I cared less about what people think.” The cinematic “Another Life,” for instance, packs a lot into one song: string arrangements, tempo changes, nightingale vocals. “That song came out of a little assignment where I wanted to write a song with as many bizarre chord changes as I could. I kind of just sat at the piano and made the melody fit over it,” she says. It’s about the romance of feeling connected to someone. “It was a very simple sentiment wrapped up in a very intricate piece of music,” she says. “I was really just trying to make a symphony in three minutes.”
The concept of symphony is key. Much of It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense is Michaelson broadening her musicianship by endeavoring to communicate more through evocative sounds than her actual lyrics. While the album does not belabor any aural theme, it does make spectacular use of strings and harmony in its gut-wrenching laments. “Drink You Gone,” written with Busbee in just two hours, is a classic love song that relives the moment Michaelson was holding the hand of her mother, as she faded away in the hospital. Meanwhile, the heartbreakingly quiet “The Old Days” captures the feeling of “moving forward, but never forgetting the love.” If there is a thread to the randomness of It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense, it is that one can only purge emotions after nearly drowning in a rush of them.
“This was me was finding my way out of the darkness. And asking, ‘Where do I go from here?’” she says. “It’s been a struggle to become fulfilled again. And I had to put that sorrow into something.” In that sense, It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense is an epic break-up album, in which Michaelson finally bids farewell to demons.