20 Watts

20 Watts Reviews Imogen Heap’s Ellipse by caitlindewey
Imogen Heap's Ellipse is elevator music through an electro-pop lens

Imogen Heap's Ellipse is elevator music through an electro-pop lens

PREVIEW: Download Imogen Heap’s “Earth” MP3
WE GIVE IT: 11/20 Watts

You might cry when you hear Imogen Heap’s latest album. Not for the same reasons you cried during the O.C.’s final third season episode, when Imogen’s barren, vocodered cover of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” accompanied a limp Marissa Cooper to her death. Not the reason you cried when your best friend stole the dude you were totally in love with in the 11th grade, and only the bittersweet misery of Heap’s “Speeding Cars” could console you.

Nope, you’ll cry because Imogen Heap is making elevator music these days — nice elevator music, admittedly; pleasant, inoffensive, occasionally interesting elevator music — but just as bland and ultimately unmemorable as the crap you’re forced to listen to when some corporate office puts you on hold.

And that’s a crying shame, really, considering the kind of gorgeously icy, many-spired work that Imogen’s done in the past. But on Ellipse, the fragile, electro-pop starlet hasn’t aspired to anything more than mainstream palatability — and while that’s not entirely unpleasant, it’s also pretty lukewarm.

To be fair, the first few tracks of Ellipse are almost enough to trick the listener into thinking she’s hearing 2005’s Speak for Yourself. “First Train Home” is a buzzing urban dreamscape, illuminated by Heap’s ineffable voice; “Little Bird” tiptoes through a bizarrely foreboding, melancholy scene, ripe with lush poeticisms and surprising lyrical turns. And on “Earth,” perhaps the album’s most intriguing track, Heap takes a page from the many adoring acapella choruses that have plastered their “Hide and Seek” covers all over YouTube, warbling against a collage of gently carbonated beatbox.

But for all that promise, Ellipse collapses shortly thereafter, falling apart on the vocoder-heavy odes and precious pop ditties that were once Heap’s bread and butter. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with tracks like “Swoon” and “2-1,” per se — they just sound exactly alike. In fact, on repeated listening, most of Ellipse starts to melt together in a kind of sticky, sugary mess that leaves one feeling vaguely unappetized and slightly annoyed.

That’s not to say that Heap’s mediocrity is offensive, because it’s not. In general, her formula of airy swooning, sugar-water lyrics and synth or keyboard accompaniment is bland and uninspired — but benignly so. Essentially, it’s elevator music through an electro-pop lens. And while it’s doubtlessly not what Heap was going for, it’s the only thing she perfected on her third full-length.

— Caitlin Dewey

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