In his second record, titled Incendiary Heart, Andy Michaels throws out the rulebook when it comes to making a sophomore album and focuses solely on getting back to the basics of songwriting, and though this approach could rightly be described as somewhat minimalistic compared to what he did in Revisited, his 2018 debut, it’s an aesthetic that he does remarkably well by any measurement. Taking elements of folk, rock and even a little bit of country music and amalgamating them into a singular melodic fabric isn’t any easy feat, no matter how gifted the artist attempting it might be, but in the songs “Night and Day,” “Sticks and Stones (featuring Carolyn Thomas),” “The Flame (featuring Kerry Ironside),” “Only Love Knows the Meaning of Goodbye,” “I Can Fly” and “Planet 8 (featuring Sharon Court),” Michaels somehow does just that (and makes the whole charade look pretty simple, too). The late 2010s were an era of experimentation no matter what corner of the pop/rock lexicon we were listening to, and I suppose it is only fitting that one of its most promising singer/songwriters would choose to end the decade on such a progressive note as this one.

The first half of Incendiary Heart – namely the single “Darling It Hurts” (which has a phenomenal music video as well), “Emerald Eyes (featuring Tiarna Madison)” and “Fireflies” – is all about boasting the lyrical dexterities that Michaels, and his chosen collaborator in Madison, has, while I found the second half to be more about demonstrating the monolithic effect of his instrumental melodies on the mood of the verses in general. Not unlike reading a classical novella, Incendiary Heart asks us to put ourselves in the position of its protagonist often enough that, by the time we start to near the end of the album, we begin to understand what Andy Michaels is trying to tell us not in one specific song, but, and here’s the twist, in all fourteen that are on the LP. There’s continuity to this piece, and if there’s a larger, underlying theme for us to acknowledge here, it’s undisputedly in his storytelling. In this sense, the star of this show is constantly finding a way of painting us a picture even when he isn’t the one commanding the microphone; it’s extravagant for certain, but it doesn’t play out like a super-beast of a record at all.

APPLE MUSIC: https://music.apple.com/us/album/incendiary-heart/1467149967

Andy Michaels’ Incendiary Heart is indeed an involved-listen, but if you’re into current indie singer/songwriters who are looking to make a big impact on the decade still ahead, it should be regarded as required listening this January. I first became aware of this artist with the release of his virgin album Revisited, and in the time that has passed since then, he’s done a lot of work on his stamina as a singer, and it shows in spades here. Incendiary Heart has a lot of layers for us to sift through in our quest to understand the Andy Michaels that Andy Michaels inevitably wants to create for himself and for us, but there isn’t a second in its roughly fifty-one minute length of play where his verses, or his melodies, sound even the least bit egomaniacal. He’s on my watchlist this year, and after you hear his new LP, he should be on yours, too.

Sebastian Cole