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29 May, 2006

Crop circles in the carpet

I rarely watch music-related TV at one in the morning, but whilst channel surfing¹ a fortnight ago my attention was caught by an attractive woman² talking about interesting electronic pop.  The interview and her music were intriguing, and a few hours later, I ordered her latest album from Amazon.

The woman was Imogen Heap, and her second & latest solo album is 'Speak For Yourself'. For those totally unfamiliar with her work, I'd loosely describe it as if Dido had acquired influences from more esoteric electronica and had dropped the middle-class mundanity; feminine electro-pop with some substance. I'm sure others could describe it better, but this genre is somewhat outside my normal range of listening and I have limited terms of reference.

Her recent 'breakthough' success is due to four of her songs being featured in lightweight drama 'The OC' 3, but don't let that deter you – it wasn't written for a specific market, and isn't empty teen pop. Frankly, having lived with the album for almost a fortnight, it's not exactly ground-breaking, and slightly 'girly'4, but it's perfectly respectable vocal-led art-pop and I certainly haven't become bored after repeated listening. Her classical training shows in the intricate layering, and I'm still discovering details.

I can't deny that I was drawn to the 'auteur' aspect of her work: on her current album, Heap wrote, performed (there are a couple of guest appearences, but I suspect they're samples) and produced all the music in her own studio, found her own photographer and designed the album packaging herself, and released it on her own label, Megaphonic Records ('I, Megaphone', her first album, is an anagram of her name). This wasn't an amateur tinkering in a bedroom studio, though: her previous label was Universal/Island and Sony (UK) & RCA (USA) are distributing 'Speak For Yourself'.

Heap's MySpace biography describes the attraction, both as interviewee and as composer/musician: 'part cool 'n' collected statuesque beauty, part thrilled eight year old'. That MySpace site streams a few song samples; give them a try.

¹: Horrible phrase.
²: Yes, I noticed her physical appearence first. It's a regretable fact that if I hadn't found her attractive, I doubt I'd have paused long enough to hear her music.
3: The latest of several appearences on TV and film (e.g. 'Garden State' as 'Frou Frou') soundtracks.
4: Not in a perjorative way; I simply mean it's more overtly feminine than my usual gender-neutral or masculine musical taste.

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