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Imogen Heap is a heap of sameness

BY ERIC SUNDERMANN | AUGUST 25, 2009 7:05 AM

** out of *****

Imogen Heap first graced my ears my freshman year of college, when I heard “Hide and Seek” for the first time. Unsurprisingly, it was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and I loved it. With an original blend of synthesizers, vocals, and effects, she was able to produce haunting and beautiful sounds.

Naturally, I moved beyond “Hide and Seek” and discovered the rest of her music. She impressed me because her sound was so fresh — an extremely difficult task in today’s music world. However, in Ellipse, Imogen Heap’s new album, bold originality falls to the side, and all that remains is a forced mix of blandness.

Because of Heap’s experience, Ellipse is far from an awful album. She knows how to appeal to a listener, and the record provides an OK and almost pleasant listen at times. But both fans of Heap and new listeners will be disappointed because she lacks the innovation featured in previous releases. It’s blatantly evident Heap was fishing for ideas and/or suffering from some type of writer’s block in Ellipse. Pulsating drum beats and synthesizers are exciting, but not when they’re used to fill empty record space.

Heap is difficult to criticize, because she doesn’t sound like her peers. It’s hard to call music made from clicks on a mouse and tones on a synthesizer bland and unoriginal, but this is the major flaw with Heap’s music — it’s only a bunch of beeps, tones, and voice-altering effects. With such songs as “Swoon” and “Bad Body Double,” she gets caught up in repetitive and dismal beats, howls, and rings. At these points in the album, the music is so misguided that it doesn’t feel organic. Honestly, why is there a need for a minute-long drumbeat, with nothing else attached?

In spite of an overall boring album, there are a few gems. “2-1” stands as the highlight track with its bouncy yet haunting organ playing underneath Heap’s insistence that she’s “dying to know what’s in your head.” As it slowly builds, sounds pull themselves out of other sounds, and at the song’s climax, she adds strings to complement the steady drums — one of the few points in the album where distinct (real) instruments are used. These breathe new life into an disc full of beeps and bops and allow her to pull the suspense out of the track to a flourishing and satisfying finish.

All this results in Ellipse being another addition to Heap’s catalogue, and that’s about it. Her die-hard fans will be happy with a few tracks, and the quality of those tracks may grab a few new listeners. But ultimately, and sadly, she doesn’t give us much more than a few songs that sound like Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.


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