Ingrid Michaelson might sound familiar to you – not just in the name, which I instantly associate with giddy feel-good-ness, but also in her voice, which is almost irresistibly distinct. Michaelson isn’t just a “girl’s girl.” She’s a singer-songwriter for everyone: for the packed House of Blues, for the radio-blasting masses, for the love-struck and the love-lost, for the young teen sitting in their bedroom learning their first song on the ukulele. (I suggest “You and I.”) And that only adds a surface layer to her incredible inherent talent, because really, she’s just cracking open her heart and soul and letting it make its way to music. Her latest album It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense holds on to that, and then turns its back to the wind and lets the magic flutter in big streams. It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense makes sense.
Michaelson walks the fine line between Skittles-sweet musician and heart-wrenching ballad bringer, and this album demonstrates that with ease. There’s no stark flip-flop — the switch from one shining side to the other is effortless and beautiful.We start with the electric opening track, “Light Me Up,” a song that’s fresh, modern and pop-y — but the kind that’s still Michaelson-manufactured. There’s “Hell No,” the sugary-sour girls-night-in jam (whose accompanying music video is equally charming and goofy in the very Ingrid Michaelson way), that you’ll want to scream-sing along to after a few repeat listens. We’re also given treats in “Celebrate” – a summer-y mellow tune that could fit right at home on a rom-com soundtrack or in the car with your friends after a long day at the beach, skin still sand-speckled – and “Miss America,” a punched-up track I might have (read: definitely) danced along to on the twenty-five-minute drive to work but one that is more appropriate as the theme song to a night out had by people much, much cooler than me.
Apart from those tunes that sound (and feel) like cool breezes and sunshine and laughter, there’s the rawness of loss with which Michaelson grapples. She addresses her divorce – from indie-folk rock musician Greg Laswell – and the death of her mother without austerity. The songs that wrench you are ones that also move you; there is no macabre melancholy, it’s all handled with care from a perspective of truth. And I thank Michaelson for that, for the strength to be vulnerable and allow herself catharsis through music. Because as teary-eyed as I got during “I Remember Her” — Michaelson’s kind of ode to her mother — there remained a magic magnetism in simple, string-sprinkled tracks like “Old Days” and “Another Life.” Michaelson’s voice holds up the heart of it all, even when it seems too hard to do so. That’s possibly my favorite (and the strongest) aspect of It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense: There’s the right balance of blanket empowerment and quiet self-addressed power, and Michaelson never lost her smart savvy among the sorrow. And it’s all so lovely.
While this isn’t my favorite album of Michaelson’s (little can touch Human Again) and while I also left it without any single track particularly sticking to my skull, It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense is art in its own right. It’s an album soaked in bittersweetness and the awful near-ineffability of grief. But it’s also one that celebrates the beauty of feeling. And in it, Michaelson continues to do what she does best: navigate emotions of all kinds, manifesting them in songs filled with serendipity and sprightly rhymes. It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense is a slightly dark delight from Michaelson, and ultimately just reminds me why I adore her so much.