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Imogen Heap


Country of origin:

England

Type of music generally:

Beautiful and fierce evocative/eclectic rock, later work more dancey electronic pop

Status:

Most recent album, Sparks (2014)

See also:

Imogen Heap's site

Wikipedia's entry on Imogen Heap

Wikipedia's entry on Frou Frou (her project with Guy Sigsworth); the Ectophiles' Guide's entry for Frou Frou

Comparisons:

Early album like Tori Amos, the more rock side of Kate Bush. While she's not a Tori Amos clone or a clone of anyone, I recommend the first album to fans of Tori, Dalbello, Ani Difranco's Dilate stage, Alanis Morissette...basically I recommend her to anyone who likes the gutsier side of ecto.
     Her later work is far more dance-beat driven electronic pop, but it's still intelligent and amazingly memorable (and not in a bad way) for such music. I didn't expect to like it as pop music really isn't my thing but she's won me over. (Neile)

I don't know if I really make the Tori Amos/Kate Bush connection other than some wicked piano and some out-there songs. Sometimes it's hard draw comparisons to other artists, but it jumped right out at me. Imagine Alanis Morissette in a lower register and a much less shrill, then throw in a large dose of Veda Hille (echoes of "Slumber Queen" kept coming to mind as I jumped from song to song), and maybe even a little Sarah Slean piano. (JavaHo@aol.com)

Covers/own material:

Own, some co-written songs

General comments:

Once again, a new artist was compared to the likes of Kate Bush and Tori Amos during the introduction to the song. I tend to roll my eyes at these comparisons now, given how many times I've seen such names dropped in artist blurbs at listening stations and the like over the last couple of years; however, Imogen might actually merit being grouped with these artists. The songs fit Imogen's classical piano training (and Kate's and Tori's styles); although her voice is nothing like Kate's, the rest of the song's exotic/eclectic production and vocal delivery reminded me of Kate's music. (Greg.Jumper@Eng.Sun.COM)

She's down the rock & electronic & experimental road. Her vocal range is tenor alto, so yes, she's mostly in the lower registers but can bring it higher. I don't think her upper range approaches Happy's at all, though. I loved her album even before I heard her live. I think she's one of the most talented newcomers out there—she mixes the experimental side with pop and comes up with something a little like Tori Amos' heavier songs but also some ballads. I love everything I've heard of hers so far, including some fine b-sides off the singles. (Neile)

Her album is purely FANTAsTIC!
     she's certainly very like Tori Amos (with massive bursts of Kate Bush's mid-career dark sounds intermixed with Garbage's electronic music)..but Imogen combines it with trip-hop at times...*very* distorted sounds at other times...lots and lots of piano...weird lyrics.
     An example is "Leave Me To Love" (on the 'Shine' single). The piano I'd swear is played by Tori...and a "Father Lucifer" type melody...but Imogen sings in a mostly distorted voice (when she's not screaming), guitars are *extremely* distorted (I'm not even sure they are guitars )...the whole effect is like Tori tearing out pieces of herself whilst singing The Dreaming tunes and playing happy tunes on her divine piano. (Kyrie@compuserve.com)

I saw Imogen perform three songs live on TV and was absolutely blown away. I had previously heard "Getting Scared", and had pigeonholed it as Alanis with amazingly weird production and more interesting ideas, but now I don't know what to think. It was a very good song, though hard to describe. Sort of industrial-pop, which is a very intriguing mix. Anyway, on TV she performed "Oh Me Oh My", "Come Here Boy" and "Candlelight" on piano. Her playing is amazingly proficient, I never thought I'd hear anyone who came close to Tori but she certainly did in parts. Her songs reminded me strongly of Tori, but I also feel a resonance with Heather Nova at her most intensely emotional, and a few smatterings of Kate. However she's definitely her own artist. Her voice was interesting, like Happy she seems to be comfortable singing in either low or high registers, which was very strange in such an uncluttered setting. It pleased me no end to discover that the album is still only one side of Imogen's personality. She has an interesting voice doesn't she? I think she must be very musical, as her b-sides include instrumentals.
     I also really like Imogen Heap's piano and keyboard work. Not really on her album, where it's nice but buried under the production, but on her instrumental b-side work where she (all by herself), combines piano pieces with layers of keyboards, beats and sound effects, yet still allows the piano to breathe—a gorgeous and haunting mix. (afinney@ozonline.com.au)

I like her stuff—she's a bit like Nan Vernon. (100046.2354@compuserve.com)

Imogen isn't noisy. Well, not in the sense of PJ Harvey's 4-track demos...what most of the folks who talk about Imogen here mean by "noise" is that there is lots of processed, electronic stuff going on in the songs...I personally don't find it noisy, I think it's just mildly electronic. Imogen plays piano very articulately, and her live shows reduce the songs to just her piano and voice, which is I think where most of their soul is located...the electronic stuff at times does take away from the songs, but it's easy enough to overlook, as the songs' strengths and her voice's power outshine the gloss of the production. She rocks, yo. (John.Drummond)

She *is* amazing. Both recorded and live. (burka@jeffrey.net)

Comments about live performance:

Wow!, what a performer. It was just her and a Yamaha piano, and to tell you the truth, I think I liked many of the versions of her songs better in this format than on her album. The piano, obviously, was much more in evidence, and she can really play. She reminds me of a cross between Tori Amos and the lead singer of Faith and the Muse. She had a great personality and was kind of embarrassed by the applause. She played lots of songs off her album. I was most impressed by her vocal acrobatics and wordless little doo-wops, etc. She can really get going, and her voice was much stronger live than it appears on her album.
     Her album didn't really come alive for me until after seeing her play live. That proved to me that Imogen is no studio darling—she's a damn good musician. With just a piano and her voice she put on a rocking good show, and really showed off how good the songs on the album really are—even without all the weird little effects. Hers was one of the best concerts I saw in 1998. (jjhanson@att.net)

I was wondering how well the songs would come across since it was only her there and none of the band members—her and a grand piano—but like Tori she can make the girl and a piano thing carry across very well because of the range in her powerful voice, excellent piano technique (I was amazed at how diverse the songs sounded in this format) and her strong songwriting. Anyway, Imogen live was really delightful—an emotional and impressive performer. I highly recommend catching her this time through to hear her play solo in an intimate setting. (11/98)
     I saw her again, solo with her electronic equipment, on her tour for Speak for Yourself, and she is still wonderful to catch live. And she's funny. Highly recommended. (1/06, Neile)

I also saw Imogen Heap recently. I thought her album was pretty good...until I saw her live. Even with just a piano, she was riveting. Then the album really did it for me. Don't miss her if you have the opportunity. She's an immensely talented gal. (11/98, runly@hvi.net)

Wow, she was wonderful—I was instantly hooked. If you've heard her CD but haven't seen her live, you might be surprised to know I thought her live performance was way better than the CD! She performed solo, accompanying herself only on piano to songs that have no piano whatsoever in them on the CD. The difference was remarkable—the songs stood on their own without all that production and distortion, sounding much more passionate and sincere to my ears. In concert she reminded me a little of Tori Amos, naturally, along with Tasmin Archer—same sort of deep smooth voice and pronounced British accent as Tasmin. I heard none of the Alanis Morissette sound that comes across on track one of the CD in particular. That seems to be a product of the CD's dense, layered production. (12/98, carnivore@bigfoot.com)

Imogen is downright scary live. I was utterly impressed with her, especially "Rake It In." Yikes. Listen to her on "Rake It In"—she does some horrendous shrieking, á la Diamanda, in the midst of it. The version of the song on the album is nothing compared to the way she screams when she plays the song live. It's fairly uncomfortable to be an audience member when she does that. (3/99, 4/01, burka@jeffrey.net)

One would be crazy not to see her perform live—I was most impressed by her and her act. Boy, can the girl wail. When I arrived at the venue I was a bit disappointed to see the lone piano on stage, since the production on her I Megaphone album is so full, so pretty, so inventive. But eventually it mattered not. The way she pounds on the keyboard at times, the way she merely tickles the keys at other times, and the way that she similarly can both erupt shrieks and whisper sweet little somethings, leaves little room for someone else's expressiveness. I was elated to see Imogen play live, and, yes, one would be crazy to miss such an opportunity, especially while she remains so accessible as an artist. (3/99, bill@wagill.com)

I've had the pleasure of seeing Ms. Heap a few times now and I'm quite taken with her live show. When I first saw her, I was a little skeptical at seeing a lone piano on the stage. A little disappointed 'cause I was such a fan of the record. Once she laid her hands on the keyboard and breathed into the mic, it never mattered that there even was an album. The songs are so solid! Her command of both instruments is astonishing. There's nothing she can't play or sing. Every night the songs are played and sung differently and to my ear, I can hear how the treatment varies. Her "playing" around with the song structures and accents is effortless. Her musicianship and sense of timing is way beyond her 21 years. Her left hand is downright scary. So the live thing is a completely different experience, and perhaps a lot more intense.
     Wherever you are, go see this woman play. If you can get close you'll truly be amazed at this talent. Hey I've seen everyone play and I mean EVERYONE. Imogen Heap is very special! Rarely do I go off on a jag about an artist, but this girl is taking it to another level. (3/99, AURALG@aol.com)

She ran the gamut from breathy Tori-like phrasing to outlandish shrieks and everything worked so well—I was impressed. Anyways, a major talent: Go see her if you have the chance. (3/99, rkonrad@ibm.net)

wow, it was cool to finally see Imogen live. It would have been a bit of a shock hearing quite different versions of her songs from the ones on her album (on this tour she plays by herself, so in terms of instrumentation it's all stripped down to her vocals and piano), except I was prepared for it. Dan S. and I had a discussion about what versions of her songs we prefer, the CD versions or the live versions, and I have to say I'm pretty split. Some songs seem more powerful live, probably partly because the music is distilled down to its most essential elements, the piano and her voice, and partly because she seems to pour more passion into some of her songs live than on the CD. An obvious example is "Rake it in" where in concert she literally emits ear-piercing screams (which are quite startling because you don't expect someone who sings in such a low register to make such high-pitched screams). During other songs, there are parts where I can't help but be distracted because there are missing parts, the parts played by other instruments on the CD. I'd really like to see her play with a band. I was impressed with how effectively she could use a big dynamic range, from the eardrum-popping screams in "Rake it in" to the soft, melodic lullaby "Sleep", with which she closed the show. She was entrancing. (kamesan@geocities.com)

Recommended first album:

Speak for Yourself

Recordings:


getting scared (single)

Release info:

1997—Almo Sounds—CDALM35

Availability:

Out of print

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Imogen Heap fans

Comments:

Includes:
  • getting scared
  • miel
  • getting scared (naked funk mix)
  • not you again
"Miel" is a similar (though not quite as seamless or captivating in my mind) instrumental to "Wireless" on the Shine single. The other b-side on this is the fun but ultimately throwaway dance/hip-hop style song called "Not You Again". (afinney@ozonline.com.au)

I Megaphone

Release info:

1998—Almo Sounds—AMS-8035

Availability:

Wide on release; currently (2006) out of print and becoming a collector's item

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Imogen Heap—piano, vocals

Guest artists:

Guy Stigsworth, Alex Silva, Andy Wright, Steve Bush—programming
Esman Khadargo—drums
Andy Kravitz—drums
Abe Laboriel, Jr.—drums
Randy Jackson—bass

Produced by:

David A. Stewart, David Kahne, Guy Sigsworth

Comments:

The album isn't quite what I had hoped, but I think I'm going to like it quite a bit nevertheless. I think half or more of the album leans a bit too heavily on "techno" or "industrial" sounds. (I have limited patience for perpetually "throbbing" bass and assorted noises....) The remainder of the album is more what I had expected/wanted; even with the "noisier" elements of the album, I already like the whole a fair amount. "Come Here Boy" is the stand-out track for me. For comparison, I like this album much more than Emma Townshend's recent debut. Once I got past my preconceptions, Imogen's inventive combination of musical elements quickly climbed to meet my expectations (and more), although in a somewhat different way. One of the best debuts of the year. (Greg.Jumper@Eng.Sun.COM)

It's powerful stuff, and full of great song hooks, interesting melodic moves, intriguing sounds, strong and soft vocals. I hear moments in the album where there are echoes—in one song there are some background vocals that sound very like early Bel Canto, and in a later song a couple of vocal turns that sound like Tori Amos—but these are just snippets in a highly individual album. (Neile)

I was trying to think of standout cuts. "Sweet Religion" certainly registered first, then "Candlelight"..."Rake It In"..."Useless"..."Oh Me, Oh My".... Oh hell...they all stand out now. (JavaHo@aol.com)

Her debut album is enough for me to add her to my list of favourite artists. For all the big deal made about her piano playing (and it is quite lovely) it is only prominent on a few tracks. The weird production/song structure is typical of the album though, so if you don't go at it expecting eleven piano ballads you won't be disappointed. Beautiful yet harsh, instinctive yet deliberately complicated, Imogen's debut is only a guilty pleasure if you are narrow-minded enough to completely dismiss the redemptive power of pop music. (afinney@ozonline.com.au)

I picked up I Megaphone and was blown away. I felt like some of the songs reminded me of Tori Amos' "Leather" taken to the next level. Truly dark and twisted. I liked her considerably. (alex.teitz@state.co.us)

Pretty cool and funky—definitely one that I know will grow on me. (jjhanson@att.net)

I know that the production on this album turns a lot of people off, but in my opinion it is friggin' brilliant. It's absolutely STUNNING. I can tell you that there hasn't been another CD that captured my imagination more completely on the first listen this year. (kamesan@geocities.com)

The antithesis of homogenized corporate pop. (rkonrad@ibm.net)

I agree that it is indeed a very self-assured debut. Very varied and a great voice. A touch of the Fiona Apples around the voice, the occasional Morissette or perhaps Sass Jordan around the music but a bit of everything in there. (BridgesM@logica.com)

I don't really care for it. i'm hanging on to it for the time being though as i'd like to give it a few more chances. (woj@smoe.org)

Being the production junkie that I am, I find her album to be probably one of the coolest things I've EVER heard. It's in the CD player 'round the clock. I truly find it in my top 3 for a number of reasons, one being the production. They did a phenomenal job on that record by painting with a very edgy brush, full of innovation and color and tech, while never getting in the way of the artist's voice and delivery. (AURALG@aol.com)

i am loving it! she has such a distinctive style, to my ear, that i'm finding this cd one of the more refreshing musical experiences of recent years. excellent stuff! (damon)

The Imogen Heap is okay and definitely worth repeated listenings, but seems to turn into an uncanny imitation of latterday Tori after a few songs. (adamk@zoom.co.uk)

Listen to it some more, and you may find it's actually far better than latterday Tori. I think I've listened to I Megaphone at least 4 times more often than the last two Tori albums [from the choirgirl hotel and to venus and back] combined. (burka@jeffrey.net)

I bought her CD, based on comments on ecto, and loved it on first listen. I agree, listen again and again! You'll come to love it also! (tefinn@altavista.net)

i was not taken by her album right away; a lot of the noise elements disturbed me, but it grew on me listen after listen, and i just love it. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Yesterday I saw a used copy of i Megaphone, and that broke my heart. You didn't like Imo's solo album? You crazy??!! :) Okay, you know I am just teasing...but it was a pretty innovative work. Her work is indeed good, and having seen her perform live definitely reassured my appreciation for her. But yet again, not everyone would find her music appealing. (bill@wagill.com)


Shine

Release info:

1998—Almo Sounds—CDALM51

Availability:

Out of print

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended if you like Imogen Heap

Comments:

Includes:
  • Shine (radio edit)
  • Airplane
  • Wireless
  • Leave Me to Love
If you can find it, the "Shine" single is absolutely brilliant. Apart from the a-side, you get "Aeroplane", a nice, airy, upbeat tune which is vaguely drum'n'bass and has some of her sweetest vocals.
     However, it's the other two b-sides which confirmed Imogen in my mind as a potential goddess. "Wireless" is an epic eight-minute instrumental (excepting a bit of wordless background wailing here and there), which is, in my mind, truly revolutionary, though I'm probably the only person to think so. A seamless mix of classical, ambient, jazz, dance and hip-hop, it ends up sounding nothing like any of them. Also, she wrote it AND produced it herself, and yet it still sounds more technologically advanced than anything on the album. Personally I think it is what Talk Talk (later period) would sound like if they hadn't shed their dance influences. As a reference point, imagine Tori Amos's From the Choirgirl Hotel, but even further "out there". I only wish she'd included stuff like this on the album—it would have dispelled the believable myth that it was the product of its producers.
     The third b-side, "Leave Me To Love", would have to be a let down, but it is almost as brilliant, if entirely different. Starting with a harsh distortion shriek (which starts off guitar, but somehow ends up as Imogen's voice), it's as ugly as "Aeroplane" is pretty. With a ditty-like piano tune in the background (vaguely reminiscent of Tori Amos's "Happy Phantom", but somehow more...trite?), Imogen sings, or rather snarls over the top, in a harsh, but oddly appealing manner. It builds up to a loud, clanging climax, with Imogen shouting "Inseminate the good, Inseminate pure!" It strikes me as somewhere between Tori Amos's "Professional Widow" and Kate Bush's "Leave It Open" (or maybe "Get Out Of My House").
     These two b-sides give the impression that the album would be similar to The Dreaming, which, apart from "Rake It In", it isn't at all. And although I also love the album as much, it's fascinating to see these other sides of Imogen when she lets her guard down, and I hope to see more in the future. (afinney@ozonline.com.au)

I'm with Tim on this one—I love all the tracks, and much to my surprise because I usually far prefer songs with lyrics, I love the instrumental track. Delightfully inventive. (Neile)


Come Here Boy

Release info:

1998—Almo Sounds—CDALM52

Availability:

Out of print

Ecto priority:

Recommended for fans of Imogen Heap

Comments:

Includes:
  • Come Here Boy
  • Feeling Strange
  • Mutual
"Feeling Strange" is a noisy-ish song, while "Mutual" is a boppy '60s-pop influenced happy song—quite a contrast, and both of them contrast with the gorgeous "Come Here Boy". I'd say this isn't essential, but is interesting if you're already an Imogen Heap fan. (Neile)

Speak for Yourself

Release info:

2005—self-released in U.K.—MEGACD001

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans of lively beat-driven pop

Group members:

Imogen Heap

Guest artists:

Richie Mills—vocals on 2 tracks, drums on 4 tracks
Mich Gerber—double bass on 2 tracks
Jeff Beck—electric guitar on 1 track
Arve Hendriksen—trumpet on 2 tracks
Leo Abrahams—guitar on 1 track

Produced by:

Imogen Heap

Comments:

This is music very much along the lines as her album with Guy Sigsworth under the name of Frou Frou. It's light, bouncey pop, but with Imogen Heap's intelligence and powerful vocals. I keep playing and enjoying this. How can it be so catchy? When I first heard it, just like as with Frou Frou, I was disappointed and thought I wouldn't like it much, but after a couple of plays I grew to LOVE it and play it all the time. The only song I don't like is the one with vocoder, and apparently that's just my own dislike of the sound because whenever I bring it up I get shouted down. This is just terrific electronic pop. Highly recommended. (Neile)

Ellipse

Release info:

2009—Megaphonic Records—88697-50605-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Imogen Heap—vocals, sounds, programming

Guest artists:

Oli Langford—violin (2, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13)
Richie Mills—drums (6, 9)
Leo Abrahams—electric and laptop guitars (2, 6)
Ian Burdge—cello (6, 8, 10, 12, 13)
Arve Henriksen—trumpet (8, 13)
Nitin Sawhney—acoustic guitar (12)
Ashwin Srinivasan—background vocals and Bansuri flute

Produced by:

Imogen Heap

Comments:

Not much of an advance on the excellent last album, this actually sounds like generic Imogen, or offcuts from her previous one. (adamk@zoom.co.uk)

this was rather disappointing, honestly, but it's slowly growing on me. "Canvas" is particularly brilliant. (meth@smoe.org)

I found this a lot more complex and unpredictable and surprising than I expected. Seems a lot less formula than her past work. (timjy@sbcglobal.net)

Imogen gives us another batch of poetic pop-gems, delivered with her incomparable, ethereal voice. I think Ellipse shows a lot of maturity, lyrically and musically, from her last album. She's an Artist (with a capital A) I look forward to following for a long time. (lasherboy@gmail.com)

I was looking forward to this for so long and it was one of the few albums like that which hasn't disappointed me in some way. I've listened to this so many times since it was released. She's a great musician. The way she forges the music together from all these different elements... it's pretty incredible. Add to that her lyrics and that magical voice... yep, this was definitely number one. "2-1" is amazing, but also check out "Wait It Out", "Tidal" and "Canvas". (jonwesleyhuff@gmail.com)

I'm in the middle on this one. I don't find it as immediately catchy or accomplished as Speak For Yourself was, but it has grown on me quite a lot and I'm definitely glad I have it. It really grew on me, just like every other Imogen Heap album. I nearly missed it. It may never be may favourite album of hers, but it's always so much fun to hear her play with layers of sounds, vocals especially. Delicious! (Neile)


Sparks

Release info:

2014—RCA

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Imogen Heap

Guest artists:

Alas, long and fairly illegible

Produced by:

Imogen Heap

Comments:

hugely disappointed by the imogen heap album—i just find it boring and missing the spark of her earlier work...too much production and not enough hook maybe? (gordodo@optonline.net)

What I like about the Imogen Heap album is that she found a way to experiment and push the boundaries of her sound without sacrificing melody, there's still a startling number of hooks on Sparks amidst all the found-sound craziness. I figured she needed to do something to reinvent/evolve, since Ellipse sort of seemed like the pinnacle of her sound-to-date, and I was worried that the result would be too insular or esoteric (like Reba Hasko's Delicate Cyclone, which I totally respect as an artistic endeavor but have a really hard time listening to). I also like that Sparks covers such diverse ground sonically without sounding scattershot, that seems like a feat. (timjy@sbcglobal.net)

The new songs are a tad too experimental for me. And the others have been out for years now. Rating: 61/100. Best tracks: "Lifeline," "Telemiscommunications (featuring Deadmau5)," "Run-Time," "Minds Without Fear." (raschee@gmail.com)

Yes, this grew on me quite a lot. Imogen is still good fun. She's said she thinks of herself as more of a songwriter than a singer, but her vocals are what get me every time. (Neile)


Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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