Ellipse


This is a non-math post with a math title! So today I started to slam into the metaphorical wall of studying. This week has been setting my alarm to get up and start doing old problem sets for as many hours as a human can do that for. My prelim exams are in one week. Unfortunately, this routine has gotten old fast and so I think I need to take tonight off if I’m going to do it again next week.

In any case, there are a few music review type posts I’ve been meaning to make, and here is my chance. The focus I guess will be on Imogen Heap’s Ellipse.

Typically I like Imogen Heap. I think I’m more fascinated with the strangeness that surrounds her than her actual music. The usual album of her’s has a few songs I love, and I kind of just skip through the rest. If you’ll recall my mid-year review, the first 9 months of this year have had a hands down best album for me. The Antlers Hospice is untouchable, which is surprising for something I’ve had for this long.

Well. Imogen Heap has really surprised me. This album rivals The Antlers for best. It will probably lose (for reasons we’ll get to), but at least it is on the same level.

First off, the variety on this album is amazing. It goes from electronic pop and dance to improvised solo piano to a song that is completely a capella. Secondly, the song construction is perfection on this album. If I were teaching music composition, I would use this album as a teaching reference. There are incredible subtleties throughout each song that keep the momentum and interest. Exactly when a section starts to get old, it will change. Heap’s ear for this is impeccable. The ability to alter phrase lengths and overlap ideas from earlier in the song to create suspension and resolution is amazing. She is able to take a 4 minute song through more ups and downs than one would think possible and still have a very natural flow.

Next, she has a song in every single key! This is a very interesting artistic choice. Unlike lot’s of album that only have a few key signatures, this album has the tone of every song distinct. As for time signatures, she also hits all the main ones and a few not so common ones. There are some very intense mixed meter songs on here.

Next, she probably plays hundreds of “instruments” on this album. I quote “instrument,” because lots of things are just hitting random things around her house. But it gives the overall feel of the album a very complex and mature sound that there is such a variety. (I’m pretty sure at one point she uses an ondes martenot?!)

Most of this probably is missed by the average listener (and by that I mean some of the reviews I’ve read that downplay the complexity). On the first couple of listens it sounds like a typical electro-pop album. I think this is another thing that makes it great. It is very subtle about its complexity. Someone who listens to lots of avant-garde and complex music can get a lot out of this as well as someone that just wants to dance to it.

Now on to why I think it isn’t the best. Note that I’ve missed talking about the lyrics. There are two (possibly three) songs that I just can’t fathom why they are on there other than just filler. The lyrics are just not about anything and have all sorts of cliche. The weird thing is that I can’t make myself skip those songs, because musically they are still really great.

I guess I have to be brief on my other reviews. A band I’d never heard of, but were on many other people’s top lists that were similar to mine was Sunn O))). So I got their new album without knowing at all what style it was or what to expect. Well, let’s just say it is probably the only time I’ve actually been scared by music. I was afraid of having nightmares that night. It was the darned scariest thing ever.

I have a rule where I can’t discard something as awful until I’ve listened to it all the way through 5 times, just in case it grows on me. But I was seriously going to just pretend I had never heard it all and forget the rule. Not even rank it. A few days later, I was curious to try again. Sort of a challenge to myself to not be scared. After the second time, I convinced myself that I could at least make it through the 5 rule.

I made it, and good thing for that rule. I would be surprised if this ends up making my top 5 or 10 of the year. It is sort of beautiful in its own way. I think the really interesting thing about it is that it is only four tracks long. But this makes it like a traditional symphony. I think this is on purpose. In fact, their use of brass instruments strongly reminds me of John Corigliano’s 1st Symphony (and now that I think of it, that symphony may have also scared me on the first listen). It sort of got me excited about how people are reinterpreting very old forms of music into their own style.

I was going to do one more, but I’m closing in on 1000 words, so I’ll end.

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One thought on “Ellipse

  1. I’ve heard of but never listened to Imogen Heap. Maybe I’m just fascinated by the name Imogen? At any rate, you’ve convinced me to give her a try.

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