Ingrid Michaelson explores dark vulnerability with ‘Human Again’

Mallory Martin

With the release of her fifth album, Human Again, singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson exposes us to a darker, less romantic side of her talents.

In a time when audiences eat up whimsical indie performers like Zooey Deschanel and her “queens and kings of quirk” counterparts, Michaelson fit right in. With previous songs like “The Way I Am” and “You and I,” she lifted spirits with easy breezy songs of cute relationships and sweet individualism played on ukelele. Many artists might have felt it prudent to stay in that secure bubble of devoted fandom, but Michaelson has taken it upon herself to step out of that mold. I must say I love and respect her all the more for it.

Human Again, a collaboration between Michaelson and producer David Kahe (of Bangles and Imogen Heap fame), explores stories of sadness, pain and uncertainty. In this place, we can see our singer as more of a tortured soul and less of a hopeful dreamer. Here, Michaelson suggests that it won’t be easy to just “Be OK,” but that there is hope in strength and endurance. Rather than just being positive, her music allows herself and us to simply feel.

While these latest pieces maintain Michaelson’s favored piano and ukelele, they are spun into a more haunting sound. Her former lullaby-like arrangements are sped up, and take on an almost alternative rock quality. Despite this bold twist, the “Turn to Stone” singer’s rare voice still soars above the music, sounding as great as ever.

Curious audiences should pay special attention to tracks “Blood Brothers,” “Black and Blue,” “Palm of Your Hand” and “Ghost.” These numbers allow for some great moments of jump-up-and-down rocking out, and give one a deep urge to sing along. Fans of her older sound will appreciate “I’m Through, Keep Warm” and “How We Love,” which are more like her prior works. “In the Sea” and “Save Me” are two pieces which differ from anything else Michaelson has done, or even anything else on the album. While they are not altogether unenjoyable, I find myself skipping over them each time I turn to this exciting new collection.