Record #475: Imogen Heap – Speak For Yourself (2005)

speak for yourself.jpgYesterday, I told the story about how Imogen Heap turned me into a poptimist. And while that narrative informed much of the narrative for that post, this record actually deserves most of the credit for that.

Because if we’re going linearly (rather than alphabetically), the moment that shattered my aversion for all things pop was when I logged onto MySpace and listened to the featured track of the week: a mournful, vocoder-only ballad called “Hide and Seek.”

It was simultaneously strange and comforting—alien in composition but entirely human. It was unlike anything I had ever heard, and I needed more.

While “Hide and Seek” is the undisputed standout on the album, none of the other songs are trapped in its shadow. The whole disk is nothing but straight bangers. You have the moody beats of “Headlock,” the romantic daydreaming of “Goodnight and Go” (featuring Jeff Beck!), and the dramatic urgency of “Have You Got It In You?”

And that’s just side one.

Listening to the whole thing, it feels like every single one of these tracks has been featured in an indie drama or used as a backing track on a dancing competition show. Even the deep cuts that never made it on The OC could have been swapped in for the same effect—especially the forgotten gem “Closing In.”

Similarly, the record doesn’t suffer under the weight of Frou Frou either.

Which is a feat in itself. Details set an impossibly high bar. And without Guy Sigsworth—or any outside support whatsoever—there might be some apprehension that Immie would be able to pull off an album as fresh as Frou Frou’s singular masterpiece.

But I’m not sure if I could choose a favorite between the two.

If anything, Speak For Yourself has a broader palette than Details. It has rockier jams, more delicate ballads, and more random instruments than you can wave a stick at. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if some of these sounds were the result of Imogen literally waving a stick around her studio. Her penchant for sampling unconventional sounds is well-documented. In one of her behind-the-scenes videos, she demonstrates how she used large carpet tubes to create deep, resounding percussion sounds. She’s programmed her own software to create interactive MIDI controllers (which she’s demonstrated in a TED talk.

This fierce inventiveness is the lifeblood behind everything Imogen touches. It’s the spark that gives both Details and Speak For Yourself such boundless freshness and endless replayability.

And, as if the two albums weren’t already so inseparable in my memory, being issued on vinyl at the same time and arriving in the mail a day apart aren’t going to help.

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