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Imogen Heap's Best Songs: An Intro To Pop's Unsung Pioneer

Posted on May 31, 2017 by Sambi
96 out of 100 based on 888 user ratings
Imogen Heap's Best Songs: An Intro To Pop's Unsung Pioneer

Imogen Heap is a mystical force that has loomed over pop music for nearly two decades, delivering elaborate pop and fiery rock imbued with whimsy and enigmatic curiosity. The British innovator’s glittering presence has been apparent on the Top 40 even when her name isn’t the main credit.

Remember the inescapable Jason Derulo hit “Whatcha Say?” The chart-topping single sampled one of Heap’s most recognizable songs, “Hide And Seek.” More recently, “goodnight n go,” one of the standout tracks from Ariana Grande’s excellent Sweetener, was a fluttering remix/homage to Grande’s “all time favorite artist.” Dressing it up in trap beat triplets and magical whomping synths, Grande stayed true to a majority of the lyrics while riffing on the opening line and the ending a cappella melody. Both pop hits drew from Heap’s 2005 album Speak For Yourself.

Grande isn’t the only musician Heap has inspired: she has been sampled various times by A$AP Rocky, Mac Miller, and Lil B; Kelly Clarkson has covered her; she’s worked with MIKA, Jeff Beck, Jon Hopkins, Britney Spears, and even helped out on Taylor Swift’s 1989. She’s been featured for various well-known TV and movie moments. She soundtracked the final suspenseful and tender moments of Zach Braff’s cult hit Garden State and the uber-dramatic scene from The OC’s second season finale, which was wonderfully parodied by SNL a couple years later and more recently evolved into the new Rickroll. She even landed on the Shrek soundtrack. Whether you’ve been aware of it or not, Imogen Heap has permeated pop culture time and time again.

Heap began performing as a toddler and writing songs when she was 13, but her professional music career began at 18 years old, signing to Alamo records for her debut album I Megaphone — an anagram of her name. A slight detour from what she’s famous for now and her classical knowledge of piano, cello, and clarinet, I Megaphone was a rock-tinged album seething in angst and fury.

Next, due to her label’s money issues and management changes, Heap was given an ultimatum to deliver her sophomore album only to be told what she turned in was not promising. Alas, the universe was smiling upon Heap. After Alamo dropped her, she created the critically revered album Details with her friend Guy Sigsworth. It was their only album as Frou Frou but became a favorite among music supervisors, landing multiple placements in TV shows and movies.

After Frou Frou disbanded, Heap returned to her solo career. She was in debt, but believed in herself enough to mortgage her London flat. Frustrated with being dubbed only as the singer from Frou Frou, she locked herself in the studio, writing, producing, and performing the entirety of her sophomore full-length Speak For Yourself. In various interviews she detailed the misogyny and patriarchal structures she encountered. “There were times when I thought it would be good to have somebody in the studio to help put things together, but I knew if I invited anyone in just for a day, people would immediately be asking, ‘So how did you find this amazing guy?’ So I couldn’t have anyone.” As a result, Speak For Yourself solidified her as an electronic pop mastermind.

Her music’s spellbinding composition is only a small portion of the incredible power she yields. Heap is also an innovator in technology. From pianos and accordions to circuit-bent Speak & Spells and giant cardboard tubes, she’s a hungry collector of resonators in any shape or form. She’s also invested in her own music technology, crafting gloves that stimulate and create sounds based on physical movement. Her Mi.Mu gloves have formulated a new way of understanding music composition in relation to performance: They can be one in the same. And if that isn’t impressive enough, she also is deeply passionate about the industry’s data and giving credit where it’s due: Mycelia Creative Passport is her “blockchain-driven musical data aggregator.” It’s no surprise that Heap has been tapped to compose the original score for JK Rowling’s adaptation of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child on Broadway, which was released as an official soundtrack album last Friday.

Taking my headphones out after indulging in Heap’s catalogue, I forgot how still the world is — for a moment, Heap’s music builds a cataclysmic and colorful barrier of sound, walling and escorting her listeners through the chaos of her creations. Albeit a small sample of what she has to offer, these 10 songs best encapsulate Imogen Heap’s meandering curiosity and innovation.

10. “You Know Where To Find Me” (from Sparks, 2014)

Bodies of water are sources of healing, escapes from what seems to be a fully discovered world on land. A place of contemplation, a means of travel, and even a source of danger, they can be just as fatally deceptive as they are welcoming. These are all the interpretations Heap took into account when personifying the Thames river on her turbulent single from her most recent solo album.

Although it was not her most successful, 2014’s Sparks was by far Heap’s most ambitious. The concept album asked for fans to send in various found snippets of sound, as well as images of their footprints that would compose the album’s cover. She received almost 900 sound seeds that would grow into her fourth full-length.“You Know Where To Find Me,” the sixth single from the album, came to life when Heap decided she wanted to write a song one a boat in one day.

It captures the river’s various unforeseeable moods. “Be still with me,” the water beckons over and over again. Heap’s tone changes from sentimental (“To get something off your chest/ Cause we go a long way back”) to threatening (“Don’t mistake my open arms for what they are/ They can turn on you”). Its melody soars up and down between keys like a sparrow dodging between branches in a thick forest. Beginning with a stripped down piano that eventually crescendos into clamorous drums and hysterically overlapped vocals, it’s a moving single that reinstates nature’s nurturing and harmful faces.