There are a lot of records out there today that have amazing production, great effects, and stellar instrumental wizards. The problem is that sometimes it's all a smoke screen to cover up poor vocal ability. And for me, the vocals are what I look for to start with. Luckily with this record, there are no fears of being let down as Michal The Girl is the real deal. This Canadian, now living in Brooklyn, can wail and then purr with a voice that just demands to be the focal-point. As a bonus, the songs are all excellent which serve to spotlight her voice even more. This is not some cutesy little piece of cheesey pop that you'll find on MTV. It's AOR that is in line with Lisa Loeb-type artists.
"Transmission" kicks off the record in an up-beat way and is highlighted by Michal's amazingly pure voice. The sleepy cellos that begin the track don't prepare you for the bouncy, vibrant vocals that follow. A catchy chorus centres the piece where Michal just lets her voice flow like the unstoppable force that it is.
"Do Over" is an almost-funky number that sways to and fro with an undeniable body-shaking beat. Michal shifts gears for "Message Machine", a slower cut which starts off with just her and her acoustic guitar. That welcoming cello, that appears throughout the record, augments the piece nicely. Michal is more restrained on this cut and comes across charmingly vulnerable, as she describes a lonely night on her own with no messages on her answering machine. "Thrown" is a good song that has dramatic parts to it, owing a lot to the cello/guitar combo.
The jewel of the CD is "Eyes Wide Open" which is simply excellent. The verses are great and the chorus just kills. A tremendous bass line (courtesy of cellist Ken Hashimoto) fills in the gaps nicely. Michal has an amazingly perceptive understanding of song structure as this piece just builds and builds throughout before reaching the peak and starting again. This is an awesome cut.
"Cold" picks up the tempo slightly and rides some good verses before sliding into a powerful chorus. Michal holds a note here with more power than one would imagine from her slight frame. She cuts it off leaving you with a clear understanding that she could have hung on for another 15 seconds.
"Flashlight" is a bouncy song that belies the insecure lyrics. "You say I'm brave,
but I feel doe-like. Caught in the headlight. It's my mistake. I threw my heart out.
In front of your subway". You haven't heard a voice so uncluttered and strong as this girl as she again holds notes here with power and precision.
The closer, "English" ends the record off on a slower note where Michal admits she's been "taken over like a Billboard by Ron English and she has no place to go". This is referring to the famous artist who illegally paints social messages on billboards.
Strung Out is a tremendous effort from an indie artist that deserves attention from the public at large. For a mostly acoustically-based record, it's strangely energizing. If you like your singer-songwriters with a voice that blows your socks off and also armed with great songs, look no further than Michal The Girl.