She’s a curious one. The London-based singer/songwriter is Grammy nominated and hugely successful in the US (it’s likely that, if you’ve seen any US television programme over the last few years, you’ll have heard her song Hide And Seek), but she could quite easily walk the streets of her native Romford unrecognised.
Yet it’s within the online community that Heap is a big deal. Always one of the most tech-savvy artists out there, she’s used social networking sites to maximum effect, posting video podcasts of work in progress, asking fans for feedback, and even recruiting fans to design artwork and contribute lyrics. It’s no wonder that Heap’s fans are a fiercely loyal crew.
Her third album, Ellipse, follows pretty squarely in the path of her previous releases. Composed and played by Heap entirely using Garage Band software, it’s a tribute to Heap’s ability that it sounds so professional – anyone expecting an album recorded on a laptop to sound cheap and ‘lo-fi’ will find that Ellipse offers forth new and different sounds in the mix.
There’s the huge choir of multi-tracked Heap vocals on Earth for example, sounding very reminiscent of the mysteriously under-rated Camille album Music Hole. Or that strange slapping noise during Bad Body Double? Apparently it’s the sound of Heap slapping her own bare buttocks and then feeding it through her MacBook. Aha, meanwhile, sounds almost impossibly busy at first – there are so many weird little sounds crammed into it.
Luckily though, Ellipse isn’t a geeky ‘look at me’ sort of album – there’s real craft and songwriting skill here too. Opening track Last Train Home is uplifting and atmospheric, Bad Body Double is a touching essay on low self esteem, while possibly the best track, Swoon, is a glorious summation of the rush of falling in love, even describing the excitement of seeing someone’s name flash up on a mobile phone.
It’s not all completely successful. Heap does sometimes overdo the vocoder effects, and there are far too many songs which sound similar to each other, sticking to the same, plodding mid-tempo feel, sometimes bringing to mind a more inventive version of Dido.
Yet perhaps that’s a tad unfair. When Heap hits a nerve, such as on the touching closer Half Life, it sounds absolutely beautiful. She can also come out with a lyric that can seem simultaneously like complete nonsense and gorgeous poetry, such as Between Sheets’ “The many windswept stickies of the mind are the molten emotional frontline”. You may not have any idea what it means, but it certainly sticks in the memory.
Ellipse probably won’t break Imogen Heap into her homeland’s mainstream, for there’s nothing here that makes her stand out particularly from the rest of the singer/songwriter crowd. Yet if you’re a fan of her previous work, or even just like some good old-fashioned, earnestly well-crafted songs, then this is an honourable addition to the genre.