After the release of her last album, Imogen Heap wanted to find a new way to create music. Instead of locking herself in her home studio for months of sleepless nights, she set a schedule for recording a new song every three months. This would result in a twelve-song album over the course of three years. The idea was to give her time to pursue other projects and be open to outside inspiration. Although Sparks took longer than three years to produce, due in part to delays from the record label, Imogen’s ambitious project was ultimately a success. And now we have this astounding album to enjoy.
Imogen Heap albums are always complex. I knew that it would take me more than one listen to really “get it.” Luckily I had a road trip to visit my family planned for the weekend after Sparks was released. After several listens from beginning to end, I feel equipped to make some semi-intelligent comments. Admittedly, I was worried that Imogen’s new collaborative habits would result in a disjointed album. Although her old method of recording was undoubtedly isolating, it produced great work. But it seems that whatever her creative venue, Imogen keeps firm control over her creations. Past documentaries make it clear that she’s a perfectionist, which allows her to make electronic-based music with depth and nuance.
Every song on Sparks has a story, perhaps more than most albums because each song was produced during a very specific period of time. I could write a way-too-long post trying to relay these stories, but many of the projects are detailed on her website. There’s also a documentary about each song, or so we’re told, which will eventually be released online. It might seem odd to feverishly document her creative process, but when a musician creates in such a labor-intensive way, I can understand the urge to share it. The beauty of this album is that you don’t have to know all the back story in order to enjoy it. However, if you’re interested, the stories are available.
Sparks kicks off with an awesome trio of songs. “You Know Where to Find Me” contains all her characteristic verve, toeing the line between loneliness and joy, feeling both comforting and new. “Entanglement” is a sexy love song, not her first foray into the topic, but certainly my favorite. Then in a more conceptual vein, we have “The Listening Chair.” Each minute represents seven years of Imogen’s life with stylistic shifts to match. I thought this might make the song more difficult to enjoy, but it’s actually fascinating to hear each minute evolve, both lyrically and musically. The theory is that she will add another minute every seven years for the rest of her life.
The album’s energy peaks around “Lifeline” and “Minds Without Fear,” appropriately located near the middle. Speaking of verve, these songs are bursting with creative energy that is, in my mind, the definition of Imogen Heap. “Lifeline” is a true collaboration with her fans, who submitted sound samples for use in the song. “Minds Without Fear” is another collaboration, this time with Vishal-Shekhar, a duo that writes music for Indian film. Their otherworldly vocals mesh perfectly with Imogen’s production style.
I’m all about Sparks right now, and the beauty of an Imogen Heap album is that I know I’ll continue to discover new facets as time goes on. She proves that electronic, engineered music can be full of warmth and heart. I hope she never stops making music.