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Immogen Heap - Ellipse

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Imogen Heap - Ellipse

Imogen Heap - Ellipse

RCA Records
I love Imogen Heap. I hope she doesn't freak out when she finds that out, though, because it's purely platonic. Her music is a constant inspiration to me and, I'm sure, plenty others.
Most people discovered Imogen Heap in her creative collaboration with Guy Sigsworth, otherwise known as Frou Frou. Their track, "Let Go" was beautifully used in the breakout film Garden State. Others fell in love with her due to her quirky tracks on her sophomore album Speak For Yourself, notably "Hide & Seek" and "Goodnight and Go." Still others discovered her at the wee age of 21 when she released her debut album, I Megaphone ( an anagram of her name), featuring tracks like "Getting Scared" and "Come Here Boy." I fall into the latter category, and had fangirl moments when discovering Frou Frou and her sophomore album. Something similar happened when I heard news of her third solo album, Ellipse. After the success of her previous releases, to say Ellipse was "eagerly anticipated" would be a sad, sad understatement.

Second Verse, Same as the First

However, when I began listening, my hopes began to slip away like sand in an hourglass. "First Train Home" is beautiful, for sure, but sounds like a missing track off of Speak For Yourself rather than a proper lead single, identifying this as a new endeavor for her, musically. The inertia is palpable as normal, the lyrics rambling and lacking typical pop structure which is another idiosyncrasy of Imogen that we've all grown to love and accept, but is it anything new? No, it isn't.

Don't stop there. Go on.

The Aesthetics of an Artist

It is interesting to note the aesthetics of the album Ellipse and Imogen Heap's previous albums. Take I Megaphone for starters, Imogen's dark, restrained, and lost debut album. The images in the album reflected that feeling, where the light was muted and the feeling was more dark than not. Move on to Speak For Yourself, a white-colored album with no enclosures, really nothing solid besides the singer, and lots of colorful doodles and bursts, and you'll find the music itself has also opened up. The music on I Megaphone could be labeled as "unrestrained," specifically with "Rake It In" breaking out into dissonant and chaotically-pounded instruments, Imogen screaming over top before shuddering back into the structure of the song; to me, that seems like an uncontrollable outburst, the temper tantrum of a child who cannot stand the limitations placed on them any longer, but accepting conformity in the end.

The Imagery of Restraint

The title of the album also suggests a need for volume, "I am a megaphone, hear me." Megaphones were also used most famously for leading rallies or protests, so one person could speak for many rather than as Imogen advises on her sophomore album, to Speak For Yourself. And while the music on the latter album has a more restrained feel, take a closer listen. "Hide & Seek" alone showcases this lack of restraints, because what could be more restraining than accompanying instruments? Heap delivers an a cappella studio track that did not need another instrument besides her lovely voice to carry the listener blissfully from beginning to end. The lack of typical song structure also shows the concept of breaking from constraints and speaking for one's self, the tracks more of a conversation between people or ideas written in a stream of consciousness and laid against notes. The imagery contained within Ellipse is distinctive. On the cover alone, Imogen is blanketed in dark, save for three circles of light. Darkness is often a form of pressure, it's own kind of restraint, but it also contains hidden surprises and possibilities. Darkness creates fear, light creates absolution from that fear. Light also strips the mystery from darkness, so together, they are both restraint and freedom. Flipping through the booklet we find more images of lights breaking through the darkness, all sorts of colors to banish away the fear. These colors bring Speak For Yourself to mind, where the darkness represents I Megaphone.

There's Beauty in the Breakdown

Whether this symbolism is intentional, I find it no surprise that the musical content on Ellipse also channels both albums in Imogen's past. A dark, overboding feeling accompanies her on the fast-paced "Aha!," electronica simmering along as chaos batters itself along the edge of the music. Conversely "Between the Sheets," a track that implies restriction in its very name, is light and breezy and happy, making me want to enjoy the freedoms I have. "Between the Sheets" also reminds me of the calm and beautiful romantically longing track from I Megaphone, "Come Here Boy." Flying on a similar wind is "Wait It Out," a track that not only flits along butterfly-like but uses the same vocal processor that was used in "Hide & Seek." Starting in the shower and later sounding like it is sung in one, "Bad Body Double" plinks and grooves along in a perfectly carefree way, content on being one of the tracks that really shows musical evolution compared to "First Train Home," especially with the stomp-stomp-clap beat that is quietly thrown in. "I've got bad body double trouble" is the cutest way of blaming all your wrongdoings on an evil twin. "Swoon" and "Earth" also embody this evolution, the latter which sounds to be sung completely a cappella in the same style of Bjork's divisive album Medulla.

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