I really dig the name Imogen. I don’t know why. A friend of mine once told me that if I were an English girl, that would probably be my name. It’s a compliment I happily accepted, given that I would share it with the lovely Imogen Heap.
Like many people, my first introduction to her voice was when I heard “Let Go” by Frou Frou. That song made a lot of people leaving the theater after watching Garden State rush out and buy a copy of the soundtrack, and rightly so. Like the woman says, drink up, baby doll. After my Garden State discovery, I bought the Frou Frou album Details, which I listened to over and over again. I was haunted by Imogen’s voice and the way the heartfelt lyrics were combined so brilliantly with such modern sounds and beats. Then came Imogen’s solo album Speak For Yourself, and the mind-blowing, vocoder-happy “Hide and Seek”- a song that can still reduce me to tears. Several years later came Ellipse, which earned her a Grammy award in 2010, and was classic Imogen. It boasted some great tracks, but the one I loved the most was “Half Life.”
If you haven’t picked up on this just yet, I have a bit of a penchant for sad bastard music. And Ms. Heap comes up with some of the very best, dressing it in synths, piano riffs, and her distinctive voice. This week, she gifts us with another album. And her latest solo effort, Sparks, does not disappoint fans of her trademark voice and sound.
In the opening track, “You Know Where To Find Me,” a song laden with piano and her signature electronic vocals are lines like, “We go a long way back / back to nothing at all”, “If you think it’s all over / I can sense it a mile off / It’s no friendly hello / You could be screaming drunk / Well I’ve got my bad days too / I’m gonna be here for you / Be still with me”, “In a public place / with private thoughts / A reminder of a precious loss”, “All things to mend with / Bite-size life boats / I’ll fix your smashed up head” and “If you’re broken / I’ll be here”.
On “Entanglement” (which I think we’ll soon hear in movie trailers with its sweeping, orchestral movements), she croons to her lover, “It’s home where you hold me / so show me no mercy / On islands of cotton / taboos get forgotten”. On “Telemiscommunications”, a collaboration with Deadmau5, she reminds/asks us what’s important in our technology-saturated world with, “So unlike us / Cut back to horizontalisms / If we could win just one small touch / Contact versus tele-miscommunications / Did I tell you I loved you today?”
On “Lifeline”, which opens with someone striking a match, she uses sounds that were actually sent to her by some of her fans, such as bicycle spokes clicking and doors opening and closing. She sets the scene with “Freeze frame on me / Mmm, can you read it on my face? / Data mining from old memories”.
On “Minds Without Fear”, she says, “Nearly every inch of us on the line / Plucking on the string of everything that could have been”. On “Propeller Seeds”, which closes out the album, she asks, “Unfold / Where does this story go? / What does this story know? / What does this story hold… for us?”
Imogen Heap has mastered the art of combining her personal, intimate lyrics and vocals with sounds that are decidedly more futuristic. If I had to describe her way of storytelling through song to someone who had never heard any of her music before, it would likely seem impossible. And yet she makes it work, every single time.
Writer. Dreamer. Expert bullet dodger. Lover of music, books, travel, dogs, the ocean, and naps. Pop culture nerd. Overuser of the word awesome. Makes a mean playlist née mix CD née mixtape. Slightly obsessed with documentaries, Nutella, the Oxford comma, and onomatopoeia. Frequently sarcastic, loyal to a fault, and a bit of a potty mouth.