Thursday, November 19, 2009

Imogen Heap: Ellipse

I like to take my time before I analyze an album. It may not be the timeliest decision, but it’s the only way for me. And it’s a good thing I waited. Had I reviewed Imogen Heap’s Ellipse after I bought it in September I wouldn’t have been able to fully appreciate the sonic beauty of this album.

Lead single “First Train Home” was an instant favorite for its gradual build to a frenetic wave of synths and drum beats. It shines in the smallest moments and enthralls in the biggest, which is nothing new for her—more like a gentle refinement.

Imogen could’ve fared just as well to continue the beat heavy tracks of Speak for Yourself. Fortunately, Ellipse knows its strengths. There’s warmth and richness to the melody of “Little Bird” that echoes a few of her older tunes, most notably “The Moment I Said It,” but takes them to new heights. The dizzying ethereal harmonies and instrumentation blend so effortlessly that on first listen I didn’t pay much attention. With repeated listens I’ve become completely elated for this understated, four minute and seven second track that has the bones of a folk song and the flesh of Feist’s “Honey Honey.”

She flies her Frou Frou flag proud with the swelling “Tidal,” another prime example of her masterful pop sensibilities. At times the music overpowers Imogen’s lighter-than-air vocals, and even she might be aware of this. A deluxe edition of the album was released with instrumentals of the album’s 13 tracks. Perhaps it was merely to please the segment of her fan base eager to cut and paste an honorary Heap mix.

Regardless, there’s something to be said for believing that your music can stand on its own without help from a voice.

Imogen not only shows she’s well adept at production, but also at recognizing how imperative placement is. The pacing of this album is impeccable—ample time to get cozy with the lush, orchestration of ballads (“2-1”) and sing into your rear-view mirror (“Bad Body Double”). And when the final chords of the subtly rhythmic, reflective and gorgeous “Half Life” rang out I felt comfortably whelmed—neither under nor over, just full. It just needed a bit to digest.

LISTEN: Little Bird, Aha!, Half Life.
(But it should really be taken as a whole.)

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