Release Date: Aug 19, 2014
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
There are few artists around today that push themselves creatively quite like London singer-songwriter Imogen Heap. Even one of her most well-known records, the mesmerisingly beautiful Hide And Seek, sees her sing through a vocoder that makes it almost impenetrable to some. Yet with every album Heap has taken her sound to another level, with 2009’s Grammy Award-winning third album, Ellipse, her best received to date.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. One of England's most beloved contemporary songwriters, Imogen Heap has wowed us for around fifteen whole years in a huge variety of ways. We've seen her tackle the brittle arena of trip-hop and downtempo electronica in her early years, the world of massive stonkin' synthpop with Frou Frou and we've seen Jason Derulo butcher arguably her greatest sonic achievement, 'Hide and Seek'.
Now that many album recording sessions involve little more than a bedroom and a laptop, it's hard not to admire the elaborate genesis of Imogen Heap's fourth solo record. Written and recorded variously in her local community garden, the Himalayas and the Chinese city of Hangzhou and featuring one deliberately unfinished track (Listening Chair) that aims to condense her life into five minutes, it often feels more like a particularly ambitious performance art project than a collection of songs. But persevere and you'll be well rewarded; its feverish, idea-glutted electropop frequently resolves into something thrilling, as when the propulsive Run-Time hits it stride.
Nearly three years in the making, Sparks is an ambitious concept album from Imogen Heap. Almost all of the 14 songs find their origin in short, brief aural snippets of found sounds, audio that is almost buried in the finished form on Sparks but nevertheless gives the album a skittish, otherworldly feeling. Often, the record dances on the far side of elliptical: not only are the rhythms simultaneously skeletal and elastic -- sometimes they barely seem to be there -- but the melodies aren't direct, so it takes a while for this album to sink in.
Imogen Heap is one of those musicians. Throughout a career that already seems to have gone on forever and a day, she’s managed to seem almost wilfully different yet increasingly-accomplished. Sparks, her newest, is a pop tour de force of the best kind. Much as it tries to be quirky and difficult, it is in fact a wonderfully satisfying listen.
In Sparks, Imogen Heap returns with her fourth solo album, three years in the making and possibly her most adventurous offering yet. With her track record for innovation in music, and especially for marrying human emotion with leading-edge technology beyond gimmickry, Heap sets her own bar high. On successive listens, it’s difficult not to be impressed with the results; there is such silkiness to Heap’s music that it can initially drape itself over you with its sheer conviviality.
Review Summary: Imogen Heap continues her dazzling blend of electronics and off-kilter pop, only this time the results come in a decidedly mixed bag.There was a moment after ‘Propeller Seeds’ closed out Imogen Heap’s fourth album, Sparks, that I almost thought I was back in 2005. The sheer poeticism of the track left me dumbfounded and wanting more, while the keen delivery and knowing vocal inflections harkened back to the lauded Speak For Yourself. It was like being dropped inside of a reverse time capsule, and I didn’t know how to respond besides to replay the entire album.
Imogen HeapSparks(RCA)3 out of 5 stars Five years in the making and it sounds it, UK singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Imogen Heap has crafted an impressive hour of music; long on artiness if short on cohesiveness. It’s a wildly eclectic, genre bending work that was created piecemeal as Heap travelled around the world. Sonically, Sparks is a shimmering production masterpiece where each track brims with vocal, keyboard and percussive overdubs as the listener is kept guessing when Heap throws in unexpected sonic surprises.
Imogen Heap's fourth record is less a coherent album than a collection of crowdsourced collaborations, generated through methods and techniques that include a running app and a pair of gloves that turns the wearer's body into a human harp. Sparks was written in a community garden in Hangzhou, China, and in the Himalayas in Bhutan. There's a song called The Listening Chair that will never be finished, with Heap promising to add a new verse every seven years.
“An acquaintance with benefits, a work in progress/ Downloading romance, downloading romance,” sings Imogen Heap in “Me the Machine,” articulating a sentiment reiterated in many ways throughout much of her fourth album. “Sparks” finds the singer seeking out the demarcation between technology and humanity; she embraces computerized sound eagerly, but doesn’t necessarily trust it to express the vital beats of the human heart. Heap approaches the problem from several directions: the globo-acoustic/synthesized hybrid stomp favored by Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel at their peaks (“Cycle Song” and “Minds Without Fear,” respectively); a dark but openhearted piano ballad colored by orchestrated samples (“You Know Where to Find Me”).