A piano menacingly circles us. A voice, in a half-whisper, sings between the ridges of an instrumental rhythm that will create “Sticks and Stones” before our very ears, and even though Andy Michaels is coupled with a powerful player in Carolyn Thomas for this track from his new album Incendiary Heart, there’s never any doubt as to who the driving force in this performance really is. The music video for “Darling It Hurts” takes us into a world of luxury only to find the painful croon of Michaels still too overwhelming to dismiss, and although the likes of Tiarna Madison and Sharon Court add a lot of color to songs like “Emerald Eyes” and “Planet 8,” the soul of Incendiary Heart remains with its primary director from one track to the next without fail.
“Only Love Knows the Meaning of Goodbye” has a dirty little guitar part in its intro that hasn’t stopped haunting me since I first acquired thus record, much as the tribal-style drumming of “Rambling Man” stayed in my mind even though the hook from “Fireflies” was still humming there as well. The only track that was a bit confusing to me here was “I Can Fly,” which seems just a bit too ambitious a composition for Michaels to undertake at this point in his recording career. He does better with the softer stuff on this album, with songs like “This Songs for You” bottling melancholy and desire in a single concoction fit for anyone to consume year-round.
“Only Change Stays the Same” is a lyrical bombshell of a song when compared side by side with the title track, but I actually think that Tiarna Madison turns in one of the most emotional vocals I’ve heard in the last couple of months in “Incendiary Heart.” Kerry Ironside gives her a run for her money in “The Flame,” but because of the surreal stylization of the instrumental melodies in this song, I don’t think that we’re able to appreciate how stunning her voice is when there isn’t a wall of harmonies bearing down on her verses. I’m not questioning Andy Michaels’ production logic here at all; if anything, I’m hearing a lot of different ways that his sound could be produced in the future on this record, which is always a good thing in a second album.
If writing about pop and folk music for the past decade-plus has indeed taught me anything about what works for an artist and what doesn’t, I think “Humming Bird” will end up being the most popular deep cut from the whole of Incendiary Heart. A hybrid of early 2000’s alternative rock and a Genesis-esque approach to the physics of pop, “Humming Bird” is unequivocally the most well-written song on the LP, and when considering its placement in this tracklist with such compositions as the creeping “Night and Day,” I believe it’s the true north to Michaels’ aesthetical compass right now. Australians and Americans alike who haven’t already done so should pick up Incendiary Heart this January – it’s as independent as indie folk/rock gets, and that’s nothing to scoff at in our modern times.