23 November 2014

Imogen Heap - Sparks

At the beginning of 2014, I made a few blog templates for albums I wanted to review over the year based on what was (possibly) going to be released in 2014 as stated in Mojo, Terrorizer and other musical publications.  Out of the twenty or so that I put up, this is the second last of those albums and I almost forgot about it (there is another one to come, it has been that sort of year).  The album that I am looking at here is 'Sparks' by Imogen Heap, an artist I was first introduced to when a friend sent me a copy of 'Speak For Yourself'.  I found tracks like "Hide & Seek" and "Goodnight & Go" to be very interesting, she does has a distinctive voice which was shown on the Frou Frou cover of "Holding Out For A Hero" originally by Bonnie Tyler that was used at the end of one of the Shrek movies.  From reading up on this record, it has been billed as a concept album.  It has been made with fan contributions of sounds seeds (various recordings of mundane things); she has also been releasing tracks as single as she has gone along.  Out of the fourteen songs on offer, nine have been released as singles before the album was unleashed to the public (seven of them before 2014).  It sounds like an interesting project, so let’s see if the resulting album lives up to the hype.

The first song of the album is "You Know Where To Find Me" which was the sixth of the nine track to have been released from this album.  With a simple piano, the song starts off with a luscious production sound; the album is produced by Ms Heap herself and she has a whole range of experience at her hand (this is how you produce yourself Metronomy) which she uses with full effect. The song is a great example of Dream Pop which is currently making waves around the world, it starts off with the aforementioned simple piano and then it builds up into a ridiculously beautiful bridge section that sounds like an episode of a dramatic drama exploding into sound.  As an opening track, it immediately grabs your attention and starts off the album on a good footing.  "Entangled" has a very bass heavy opening, slow and brooding; it has a similar vibe to some of the tracks off the Nine Inch Nails album 'Ghosts', but unlike Mr Reznor, Ms Heap has actually crafted a full track out of the original idea.  The lyrics are beautiful; the vocal delivery is beautiful, when the strings are added it feels like warm honey is being delivered to your ears.  This is a stunning track for me, it is something that can easily have became mindless drivel in the wrong hands but this track has been created by someone in full control of the production.  "The Listening Chair" starts off with a montage of noises made by the human body, hands, vocals - basically anything that a body can do.  With the addition of either more vocals or keyboard work (I am hoping for vocals), the song builds up on you listening to a list of the favourite things and things that have haunted the vocalist as well; you are in the listening chair and hearing the tales from Ms Heap.  This is one of the few tracks that have not been released as a single, but it is a track that is crying out for a bigger audience.  It is simple and infectious, it is a beautiful song that you listen to for all the strange words and noises - it is a great enigma, with a brilliant build up to the end.  "Cycle Song" sounds like it is built to have a movie created around it - simply it is a song that you would have heard in the background of your dreams over the years.  It is more about the music and voices in the background, there is no main narrative and you are invited to lose yourself for the two minutes that the song is around. 

"Telemiscommunications" is next and this is a song that was made with Deadmau5, it is the tale of love falling in the modern age when the world of modern communication fails to help a couple as they begin to break apart. The minimalist theme feeling of the album is beautiful, so when the instruments come in it feels very nature and powerful; the use of loops (one of Ms Heap’s signatures) is once again called on and this moment of sadness sounds heart wrenching beautiful.  “Lifeline” is the next track, this was the first track that was released from the album and the sounds used are part of the sound seed project that Ms Heap created with the help of fans.  The overall effect is really good, it sounds like a restrained Robert Logan has been given free time with a singer and the end product of this 2011 experiment still sounds as good in 2014 as it did in 2011.  “Neglected Space” starts with a pulsing bass and harsh spoken word piece that tempts the listener to share a space between the loops and noises of the sound.  At around the 2 minute mark, the mood of the number changes slightly and the song grows from abstract spoken word to dream pop poem of hope and fear.  It is a seems rather strange and whilst there is nothing specifically wrong with the song, I could not get into it; until the bass build towards the end of the number, that strong, pulsing bass save this from being a mediocre number.  Next is another collaboration, this time with Vishal-Shekhar called “Minds Without Fear”; this sound has an Indian theme and you are introduced to an imposing and powerful number that once again shows the diverse nature of Ms Heap.  The contribution of Vishal-Shekhar compliments the vocals of Ms Heap and makes this a beautifully haunting number that deserves to be played.  “Me, The Machine” starts off with a sound like a toy xylophone, very mechanical and not natural; the lyrics about being a machine and not having any human emotions are good (if very common these days).  Once again, it is a step back to the minimal side of Ms Heap’s work and I do not know if this was by design, but I get a Christmas vibe from this song.  Just something about it seems to scream those Christmas end of year situations when you are mechanically just trying to get to the end of the year without your heart breaking again.  For me, this is one of the best tracks on the album.  

After this is “Run-Time” which seems almost euphoric, happy and cheerful in comparison to “Me, The Machine”.  The lyrics are not happy, it is about someone who is falling apart and was wanting help from someone who did not catch them when they eventually fell down.  This number is interesting, but overall it does not quite reach the level of other songs on the record.  “Climb To Sakteng” is the eleventh track on offer today, the sombre mood of earlier track is back with a call to pray and piano introduction that sets the mood out perfectly for the listener.  Slowly building a thoughtful and lonesome track, Ms Heap lets the listener indulge in their own mind games for the number with the music only acting as a guide for you to proceed down the paths of your own subconscious. I love music like this, the track is something you can immerse yourself into and get lost – a lovely, but lonely song. Next is “The Beast” which is another tale of people reaching the end of their time together, possibly on the way to their ending and the ramifications of it falling apart.  It is a interesting song, musically it has a sound reminiscent of Yeasayer and Kate Bush; it is worth remembering that at this point of the album you are twelve song in (this is not the deluxe edition either) and it is still sounding interesting without any songs repeating a similar pattern, but this song is a decent number.  After "The Beast" is penultimate song "Xizi She Knows" which starts with a guitar tone that could be Chinese or Southern American, mixed up with Ms Heap's own unique style.  It is very relaxing and whilst once again not being the most amazing number, it still has a charm that can be missing from this type of music.  Ending the album is "Propeller Seeds", this is a gentle number ending the album; it has a bit of jazz piano, loose drumming, changeable bass (when it kicks in, it still bring the hairs up on my neck) and the sense that the world is a magic place that it was when you were a child and could play make believe.

I must be honest, when I first started this album I was not expecting the resulting records to be as good as it is.  It is a long album and that is before you get to the deluxe edition (which is just the same songs done as instrumentals), however I do love end result; it keeps on giving and in places I found it to be very enlightening.  There are a few tracks which could have been jettisoned, but this is just a person preference thing.  Overall, this is one of those albums which has an instant hit and then over the days (and probably months) that follow, it reveals more to you.  Since I have been listening to it, it has been a joy to listen to; even if it is slightly on the long side.

8.5 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - Telemiscommunications

You can purchase one of the various versions of the album on Spotify here

You can visit the Imogen Heap website here

You can listen to the album on Deezer here

For our Spotify listeners, here is a link for you guys

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