Review: Imogen Heap – Ellipse

A recent review of this album saw a comparison with Sarah MacLaughlin. All due respect to Sarah but – ridiculous. Heap for better or for worse remains one of our most eccentric and wholly original artists we have. We’ve seen her compared to Tori Amos, Kate Bush, and any number of Lillith Fair-ian lady singers and all miss the mark badly. A breathy delivery and a distinctly feminine ethos does not lump her into a camp with any of the above (and that’s no slight to the above artists, Bush and Amos are among our favourite artists, but we love them differently than we do Heap who comes from an entirely different starting place). Softsynth first laid eyes on her when flipping the television channels and breezed by the Tonight Show (and in the dark Leno days that breezing was all one could reasonably be expected to do re. the Tonight Show), and we caught a glimpse of a unique looking woman all by her lonesome playing a bank of synths. That’s enough to get us to stop at the best of times, but she was performing a captivating version of “Goodnight and Go” and we were hooked. Not familiar with her first album I Megaphone or her work with Frou Frou her album, Speak for Yourself was something of a revelation, a glimpse of a top-notch songwriter with a compelling world view and a take on electronic music that was a joy.

Ellipse is a logical extension of her earlier work. Snappy lyrics (never better than on “Bad Body Double” where she decries what she sees in the mirror each day [it’s not me, no/it’s my bad body double/I’ve got bad body double trouble]), bold electronics mixed into adventurous songwriting (which has never been stronger) are the order of the day here. 

While Heap comes across as sleepy (if we hadn’t used the word somnambulant to describe M83 in the last post it would do to describe Heap to a ‘T’), there are some gutsy moments here and there where she busts it out. On lead-off single “First Train Home”, the synths build to a pulsating power by the time of the final verse and the bridge that lifts you out of your shoes; “Swoon” builds beautifully into a throbbing wonder (yes, yes = dirty. sigh.); guitars come into play on “Tidal” that power the song to the finish. What’s nicest throughout is the sheer number of surprises in nearly every single song. “Aha!” is a sonic experiment with breathy sequences woven in to the mix that just bubbles along, and not only the boldest, but likely the best song on the album. With a few exceptions where she lapses into trite, almost comatose filler (“Canvas”, “The Fire”) this is one of the most delightful surprises of the year, and an example of an electronic album that takes risks and pushes the genre forward. Heap has triumphed here, and there’s enough crossover potential that we could even potentially see her achieve some mainstream success. Heap makes a champion’s return with Ellipse

Watch: First Train Home

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