A look into Another Michael’s bold double-album experience - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Last summer, the Philadelphia-based pop-rock group Another Michael announced they would be releasing two new projects within a year’s time. These ambitious plans have now come full circle, with both Wishes To Fulfill and Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down now available to the public. 

Led by singer, songwriter and guitarist Michael Doherty, Another Michael has been releasing music since 2015, but saw an initial breakthrough with their 2018 EP Land and its opening track “About.” This led to tours with Beach Bunny, Pinegrove, and Field Medic before their signing with Run For Cover Records was announced in 2020. Throughout the years, a core recording lineup of bassist Nick Sebastiano, multi-instrumentalist Alenni Davis, and drummer Noah Dardaris was established, aided by the production team of Sebastiano and Scoops Dardaris. 

Another Michael | photo by Juliette Boulay

Wishes To Fulfill and Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down — described as ‘musical siblings’ by the group — are quite different in size, with Wishes being nearly 20 minutes shorter than Pick Me Up. The project leaves no room for filler or missteps, and feels incredibly dialed in through tight songwriting and rather fast pacing. As referenced in their debut album’s title, “big pop” is a specialty of the band, which is what the majority of Wishes feels like. 

The track “Guitars” opens the album with urgency, drawing in the listener like the first scene of an adventure movie. Once this moment passes, the group settles down and delivers a more danceable groove on “Candles,” which has proven to be a fan-favorite single on streaming services. “Angel” is the slowest, most somber moment on the album, and “Research” diverges a bit to experiment with a more produced, mysterious track without much of a song structure.

Doherty’s quick and wordy melodies on “Baseball Player” are reminiscent of Nate Ruess, the former frontman of The Format and short-lived trio fun., who shares a similar vocal range. While Ruess would commonly tap into theatricality with more opulence and grandeur as part of fun., Doherty’s theatricality tends more towards indie folk wholesomeness, coming off a bit easier to stomach than the over-the-top, mega-hits we all know and… well, remember from Ruess.

At its best, Wishes to Fulfull achieves the magical feeling of undeniably happy and emotive pop music. “Water Pressure” and “Common Ground” have choruses that feel classic, satisfying, and healing. The title track is equally upbeat, happy, catchy, etc., but in a more unhinged way than the two tracks before it. Maybe it’s the focus on electric guitar instead of acoustic, or Doherty’s slightly lower vocal tone, but this song’s production has more grit and simplicity that leans towards rock more than most anything on the project. It’s a needed pivot from the sugary sweet tracks preceding it, and also one of the most compact, singable compositions on the project. 

The most noticeable bump in Wishes’ short runtime is when Another Michael plays somewhere between a band and a bedroom producer act; case in point, the final track “Piano Lessons.” At the core of every track on the album (besides “Research”), you hear what sounds like a live band delivering a tight performance in the studio aided by layered background vocals and guitars to add emotion and depth. “Piano Lessons” is shooting for something grand, progressive, and detailed, but the weaker hook, boomy drums and repetitive songwriting is not as gripping as the songs before it. It’s an effective closer to the album, and a peak towards the next one, but its emotion feels too manufactured in comparison to the ease at which songs like “Angel,” “Water Pressure,” and “Wishes to Fulfill” achieve their impact.

This ambitious closer is a massive cliffhanger to listeners; what was going to come from this “expansive” and “experimental” follow-up record? At the time of Wishes to Fulfill’s release, the only available preview of Pick Me Up was a stark, piano-only track that was rooted in feelings of overwhelming stress… simply the opposite of the warm hug that is “Common Ground,” a defining single and moment of Wishes

After returning from a loaded winter of touring in late 2023 — including a stint with recent indie rock favs Ratboys — the singles began to pour out. “Is There A World?” featured a random section of piano dissonance; “Seafood” opens up like a hungry person dreaming about a shellfish platter; “I’m Your Roommate” featured James Taylor-esque group vocals; and “Hub of Dreams” could’ve been a more conventional closer to Wishes. Another Michael had definitely given fans some interesting material to dwell on.

Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down has a bit of everything, starting off with “I’ve Come Around To That,” which rocks harder than anything on the previous project. The 5-minute epic — which also kicked off their setlist on May 24th at Johnny’s Brenda’s — is an anthemic highlight from the album. From here, a dreamy aura ensues via layered guitars, slower tempos, and airy reverbs. “Mudslide” and “Is There A World?” deliver memorable hooks, but catchiness does not seem to be the main focus of these songs. Doherty shoves many words into phrases that end up going “over the bar” and shifting the next line, making for unpredictable songwriting. “Another Reindeer” reads like abstract poetry on paper, and peaks the unpredictability meter for the first half of the album by throwing any clues of song structure away. 

The placement of the titular track and its following instrumental “Maureen” serve as a midpoint for the record. In comparison to the deeply coded meanings of the prior tracks, “Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down” is simple, candid, and exposing; Doherty is losing himself to his thoughts and needs a strong reset. “Hub of Dreams” and the aptly-titled “I’m Not Mad Anymore” return to normalcy; a calm before one last storm. 

“The Diner’s Spoon” is by far the most experimental track on the album, with synths and organs building around a repetitive drum pattern for the first half of the song. The line “Have I ever told you I’m an escapist?” comes near the end of the song, and it all begins to make more sense. “Like I Won A Car” seems meta-textual, with Doherty speaking on how much his position as a professional musician matters to him, and what it’s going to be like living his dream for the future. At a broad glance, the calculated and radio-ready hits on Wishes represent Doherty’s steady career, and the more experimental and personal songs on Pick Me Up are his escape. Doherty and the band have found a way to dream and escape “work” as musicians, while still creating the product needed to survive and live their dream. 

The calculated and radio-ready hits on 'Wishes' represent Doherty's steady career, and the more experimental and personal songs on 'Pick Me Up' are his escape.

Whether or not these theorized meanings are shared by the band, both albums are very well executed in their own directions. Within this double album experience, Another Michael expressed growth in both their tight, pop sensibility on Wishes and their experimental vision with bold intricate production and songwriting on Pick Me Up. Their label Run For Cover also deserves some credit here, for not only believing in this bold plan, but also for scheduling a year-long rollout that gave both albums their own moments to shine. 

All that said, Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down is now available to stream and purchase. If ultra-catchy and comforting pop music is more your speed, try Wishes to Fulfill first. Or, play them back to back and see where the band takes you. If you missed their recent Philly show, check out their Key Studio Session from earlier this month!

Another Michael | photo by Paige Walter for WXPN

Another Michael - The Key Studio Sessions (Full Set)
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