[sic] Magazine

Imogen Heap – Echo game

Imogen Heap doesn’t need any introduction anymore — she’s the vocal half of Frou Frou, and the pop genius behind Speak For Yourself. And her third album Ellipse demonstrates why she’s a permanent presence on my ‘must-buy’ list — Heap still has a strong husky voice, a knack for writing brilliant pop music (Dead in the stare of a thousand miles), and lush and quirky instrumentation.

“Bodies disengaged, our mouths are fleshing over/Is this an echo game?”, Heap murmurs over a bed of gentle beats, subtle guitar and shimmering keyboard. The song swells into a sweet, slightly desperate melody, lamenting that “I want to run in fields, paint the kitchen, and love someone/And I can’t do any of that here, can I?” and her desperation to take the “first train home.”

Then Heap smoothly slides into the dreamlike softness of ‘Wait It Out,’ with its brief blazes of electric guitar, and the playfully angular warmth of ‘Earth’ (“Act like you own the place/when really you’ve only just arrived” ). Among the songs that follow: soft electronica-tinged ballads, flickering piano pop, mournful xylophone pop, and funky and/or angular electronica with a sly edge.

The highlight is ‘Aha!’, which is also the most sinisterly pretty song on the album — lotsa cascading crystalline pop and swathes of dark strings. And Heap gets downright weird in a couple of the songs — ‘2-1’ is a weirdly uneven, clattery epic that sweeps through empty musical space, while the loopy rambling style of ‘Bad Body Double’ is both engaging and bizarre.

‘Ellipse’ is the sound of an artist who has found her unique musical niche, and is now polishing it to gemlike brilliance — it has much the same sound as ‘Speak For Yourself,’ but it’s a little darker and more wistful. The music washes you away like the nighttime sea, as the lyrics sow stories of melancholy and love in your brain.

Heap’s instrumentation has definitely become more polished with time — she relies a lot on her piano and the satiny violin solos; but there are little shreds of harp, xylophone, and flickers of electric guitar here and there. And the whole album is draped in synth — her synth is usually smooth and swirling, but sometimes it becomes spiky, tinkly or dancy. All together, it’s nothing short of exquisite.

The downsides of this album? ‘The Fire’ feels like so much tinkly filler, and I can’t quite make up my mind whether ‘2-1’ is a brilliantly daring ant atmospheric song, or an uneven mess.

But Heap’s vocals haven’t lost any of their beauty — husky, strong and powerful — and she uses more vocorder to add extra drama to her songs. And her songs have become more oblique in their writing (“The gardens wearing haute couture” — really?), but she can still infuse simple sentiments with power (“The more you lose the less you see/so close your eyes and start to breathe/Oh you said yourself/ this wasn’t easy…”).

Ellipse is an album full of different shapes, different sounds, and different feelings — and it shows the further evolution of Imogen Heap’s exquisite music. If you don’t hear this, you’ll regret it.