Some of you may know Julia Michaels as the singer of the hit “Issues,” but for those who need more context – co-writer of major hits like Justin Bieber’s huge hit “Sorry,” and “Lose You To Love Me,” by Selena Gomez, amongst a plethora of pop artists ranging from Britney Spears to Shawn Mendes. As the years progressed, she found equilibrium between her singing aspirations and continuing to be one of the best pop songwriters working in the industry. Within that time she has released a great collection of EPs that have shown her tonal strengths, either vocally or structurally, but they didn’t come with the same visceral strength as the artists she has written for. This isn’t totally the case on her debut, Not In Chronological Order. It brings a galaxy full of electric pop songs and beautifully delivered ballads, despite quick pacing and a short runtime.
With the range of vibrant and illustrious production on Not In Chronological Order, the album unfortunately leaves you high and dry and yearning for a slightly longer project. One moment you’re starting with “All My Exes,” and eventually you find yourself halfway through. At 10 tracks and 30 minutes, it feels quicker, albeit the slower tempos they use to space out the sonic textures. Before you know it the album starts to end on a high note with both “Undertone” and “That’s The Kind Of Woman.” However, a lot of these songs don’t fully eclipse past the 3-minute mark and it makes the array of great songs feel a little empty, like “That’s The Kind Of Woman.” But the inherent strengths come from her ballads and the production on the sad-dance tracks, like “Undertone,” amongst others.
In the growing presence of sad-dance tracks, there have been many artists who hit the stride, but Julia Michaels is a veteran with glamorous dance tracks like “Body,” off Inner Monologues Part 2. The production of “Pessimist” is a perfect example of the way a song of that caliber should be constructed within that genre. Her “oh-so expressive” vocals is the final bolt that holds it all together, especially on “Pessimist.” This vocal delivery has quicker tempo and stays in constant motion from the track it transitions from.
Julia Michaels’ strength as a songwriter is unbound, both structurally and melodically, but there are those rare moments where she doesn’t bring the strongest choruses, lyrically and at times melodically. These choruses either have a poor delivery or have a standard rhythmic pattern that can start some snoozes amongst some. It isn’t a deterrent, but really noticeable in tracks like “Wrapped Around” and “History,” but not so much in “History,” as it, at least, flows with the rest of the song with fluidity. However, when Julia delivers, she winds up creating these beautiful dance tracks with infectious choruses like on “Lie Like This.” Co-writer Michael Pollack brings an added touch to it, giving it a glamorous coating, like the other few co-writers on the album.
As a singer and songwriter, Julia’s ear for the right melody further takes her to the accessibility to work with other songwriters. She isn’t always a one-woman force, but when she is, like on her last EP, she doesn’t shy from showing what she can do best, which is structure and creating interesting melodies, with lyrical content coming in at a close third. The construct between the verses and transitional bridges shows these angles, even if the lyrical content of a ballad or dance track takes an interesting turn, like on “Little Did I Know.” This phenomenal ballad centers on love giving you the option between the red pill and blue pill. The track centers on escaping the effect of the red pill as she starts to realize love isn’t as Shakespearean as his love stories were pretty tragic at the end. This track brings out one of the many great collaborators on the album, the piano, but nothing else.
A lot of the collaborators bring their own unique touch of pop from working with various groups and singers, most of which were pop stars/superstars, like John Ryan. He is famously known as one of the many consistently present songwriters throughout One Direction’s career; and what he brings to the table with Julia Michaels are these different type of sonic styles like the atmospheric guitar pop ballad with “Love Is Weird,” and the summer feeling of the slow-melodic electro-pop in “Orange Magic.”
The work between John Ryan and Michael Pollack are the ones that standout more than the others, but that doesn’t discredit the beautiful production work from The Monsters & Strangerz. Their work with Ryan on the production is what gives a lot of tracks that extra oomph, opposed to the songs she wrote with singer/songwriter JP Saxe, like the over-baked “All Your Exes.” This is where the album slowly falters, as JP Saxe isn’t really bringing much to the table. “All Your Exes,” and the aforementioned, “Little Did I Know,” doesn’t have the strongest delivery, specifically in certain portions of the chorus, like on the second chorus delivery on “All Your Exes.” It doesn’t switch much from the verse’s melody and loses itself as it progresses. Fortunately this doesn’t become the new crazy ex-girlfriend theme.
Not In Chronological Order does what it represents, as the fluidity of sounds don’t come with sequential consistency, but within those roots exists a lot of good to fantastic tracks that will elevate some pop heads and make others feel like dancing. It shows Julia’s ever-growing strength as a vocalist and allows us to see improvement from her first EP.