It's been four years. Oh yes, it's been worth the wait.
After the wonderful patchy intimacy of 'Speak for Yourself' comes this: 13 exquisitely produced mature pieces of electro-pop.
From the sleeve notes: 'Produced, Engineered, Programmed and everything inbetween by Imogen Heap'. Saying that, she has an impressive array of backing musicians with her, including Nitin Sawhney amongst many others.
Look, it's worth buying the CD - to start with, you're going to get better quality than any download - and the sound quality counts on this album - and secondly, you'll get the lyrics and some striking pics of Imogen Heap in a dark, electric land.
The album opens with the beautiful, rolling 'First Train Home', rippling synth and syncopated lyrics - 'first train home, I've got to get on it, first train home, I've got to get on it': she wants to get on getting on, and the music rolls on.
'Wait It Out' starts strong - yes, it's the end of the affair, but she can just sit it out - but then it collapses into sad and simple intimacy: 'And sit here, Just going to wait it out, And sit here cold, Just going to sweat it out, Wait it out.'
'Earth' - wonderful a cappella, multi-tracked playfulness, not putting up with it anymore: 'Stop this right away, Put that down and clean this mess up, End of conversation, Put your back into it and make it up to me now'.
'Little Bird' almost reminded me of Alison Moyet's 'Only You' but multi-tracked vocals.
'Swoon' sounds like there's a theramin playing in the background, but again Imogen's hilarious, intimate lyrics: 'And this is where I was going to sing your name, Over and over again but I chickened out in the final minute'. Straight into the swelling, rising, falling, driving 'Tidal'. This really is a gorgeous album...
Oh, I can't go through every track, but you've got to listen to 'Between The Sheets', that simple piano, the intimate lyrics.
'Bad Body Double' - Yeah, I've got one of those too. Funky, pizzicato strings, almost Essex accent there.
There really isn't a weak track here. Shifting moods, some dark, most with a sweet self-awareness but overall a really strong, beautifully put-together collection of classic pop.
OK, 4 years in the making with every move, mood and remix recorded for posterity on vblogs, the anticipation was always going to be high. I've been a fan since 'Speak', have most everything she's done including the excellent Frou Frou material, and have seen her live a few times.
So on to Ellipse which I've heard now countless times and feel able to review. It's easy to get swept up in her charm and down-to-earth approach. And there's nothing wrong with that. And clearly this album has been lapped up with gusto by her ever growing and adoring fan-base. But if you strip the adulation and anticipation away and stand back to view how this album stacks up against other Heap output the cracks do quickly appear.
Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of material here that works, and works well. 'First Train Home' belys the several year gap since 'Speak' and continues the Immi "sound" without missing a beat. Catchy, oh so well sung without being overstated. But why the strange acapella bridge after a couple of mins out of context with any other aspect of the track? Quirkiness is great, but so is groove and vibe and this section is so disposable I feel like digitally excising it.
'Bad Body Double' must surely be the next single. The physical frailties of a 30-something Essex girl do not sound like promising "great track" material but that's Immi's charm. And talking of frailty and charm, the closing track 'Half Life' exposes these traits blissfully. "Twee" should not work like this, but it does.
Why have I suddenly thrown the word "twee" into the mix? Because it's a word I found coming to the surface far too often when listening to the album. 'Little Bird', 'Between the Sheets', 'Aha' are prime culprits. They don't have the gravitas of Heap at her best and end up sounding shallow and, yes, twee to an almost irritating extent.
"Normal service" can be found elsewhere on tracks such as 'Canvas' which at times oozes the melodic lushness of 'Speak'. But it's on (what I'd imagine many people's favourite track) 'Tidal' where missed opportunities surface most readily. In almost a pastiche of the album as a whole; it is book-ended by the most marvellous sections. The opening crescendo is breathtaking, and the ending rock-out riff stunning. But the opening crescendo soon gives way to a shuffling biscuit tin which loses the vibe completely, and the ending is criminal in its brevity on an album crying out for such light and shade.
So, all in all, a frustrating experience. Too close to it perhaps in the intimacy of a studio built in a child-hood home? And with most every element created by Ms Heap, and the ability to digitally cut and paste ad-infinitum, perhaps it's just over-worked. I fully hope and expect further chapters of Immi's musical journey, but with a biological clock ticking the next one may take longer than this.
But ultimately, who am I? Just a fan with an opinion. Immi's out there doing it. And cudos is warranted. :)Read more ›
If you liked her last album Speak For Yourself then you will find this album right at home. 13 excellent chill out tracks. If you are a big karaoke fan you can get a delux pack that includes instrumental versions. The downside really is that she hasn't moved her game on that far the sounds are far more polished than before but similar artists like Air seem to challenge their audience with their new albums whilst this really is more of the same.
Imogen Heap doesn't need any introduction anymore -- she's the vocal half of Frou Frou, and the pop genius behind "Speak For Yourself." And her third album "Ellipse" demonstrates why she's a permanent presence on my "must-buy" list -- Heap still has a strong husky voice, a knack for writing brilliant pop music ("Dead in the stare of a thousand miles"), and lush and quirky instrumentation.
"Bodies disengaged, our mouths are fleshing over/Is this an echo game?" Heap murmurs over a bed of gentle beats, subtle guitar and shimmering keyboard. The song swells into a sweet, slightly desperate melody, lamenting that "I want to run in fields, paint the kitchen, and love someone/And I can't do any of that here, can I?" and her desperation to take the "first train home."
Then Heap smoothly slides into the dreamlike softness of "Wait It Out," with its brief blazes of electric guitar, and the playfully angular warmth of "Earth" ("Act like you own the place/when really you've only just arrived"). Among the songs that follow: soft electronica-tinged ballads, flickering piano pop, mournful xylophone pop, and funky and/or angular electronica with a sly edge.
The highlight is "Aha!", which is also the most sinisterly pretty song on the album -- lotsa cascading crystalline pop and swathes of dark strings. And Heap gets downright weird in a couple of the songs -- "2-1" is a weirdly uneven, clattery epic that sweeps through empty musical space, while the loopy rambling style of "Bad Body Double" is both engaging and bizarre.
"Ellipse" is the sound of an artist who has found her unique musical niche, and is now polishing it to gemlike brilliance -- it has much the same sound as "Speak For Yourself," but it's a little darker and more wistful. The music washes you away like the nighttime sea, as the lyrics sow stories of melancholy and love in your brain.
Heap's instrumentation has definitely become more polished with time -- she relies a lot on her piano and the satiny violin solos; but there are little shreds of harp, xylophone, and flickers of electric guitar here and there. And the whole album is draped in synth -- her synth is usually smooth and swirling, but sometimes it becomes spiky, tinkly or dancy. All together, it's nothing short of exquisite.
The downsides of this album? "The Fire" feels like so much tinkly filler, and I can't quite make up my mind whether "2-1" is a brilliantly daring ant atmospheric song, or an uneven mess.
But Heap's vocals haven't lost any of their beauty -- husky, strong and powerful -- and she uses more vocorder to add extra drama to her songs. And her songs have become more oblique in their writing ("The gardens wearing haute couture" -- really?), but she can still infuse simple sentiments with power ("The more you lose the less you see/so close your eyes and start to breathe/Oh you said yourself/ this wasn't easy...").
"Ellipse" is an album full of different shapes, different sounds, and different feelings -- and it shows the further evolution of Imogen Heap's exquisite music. If you don't hear this, you'll regret it.Read more ›