My First Music Review (Kind Of)
I like to take credit for innovative music. I take pride in having been a part of art before it became cool to like it on the mainstream. I am loyal to good musicians – I connect with them. There is a kind of beauty to taking a leap in front of thousands, playing your heart and singing your soul with a small-time record deal. Even the unoriginal talking heads over at MTV tip their hats to the ones that started out of a garage, who mixed their own tracks, that took an amateur approach to sharing their bigger than life musical concept. The ones that start out with an idea, a new wave of sound – they get me.
Imogen Heap got me. I am not necessarily prepared to boast about liking her before the big break (because I’m not ready to share her yet), but she’s got me. An import from the UK, Imogen Heap is a tall, dark-haired, pale-skinned flower dressed in layers of pink and teal. Her skirts flow like petals, strands of her hair fall like they’ve been moved while she drove with the windows down. She’s not together in the Hollywood sense, but she’s glamorous and delicious in her own sense. Her former life as a member of the outfit Frou Frou (you may recall the song “Let Go” from the Garden State soundtrack) has brought her enough musical freedom to design her own musical template. Which she has done quite articulately. Her voice is dark and robust, full of sultry lows and painful highs. Each hum, scream, murmur, lyric – is a display of her genuine vocal talent. Her melodies and instrumental foundations fuse electronica with piano, guitar, and even the simple percussion of a clap.
PBecca introduced me to Imogen back in September, over a cup of coffee. She handed me an ear bud from her Creative music machine and scrolled to a song called “Hide and Seek.” She got the mischievous look on her face like she’d discovered a treasure that could only be given away one small coin at a time and that she’d picked me to hold on to a piece of it. Like she was entrusting me with a morsel of her greatest fortune. I listened with much care; I was in tears before the bridge. Despite the synthetics of the track, its sound, it’s lyrics, each peak and resulting low felt organic and pure. I was hooked immediately by a kind of drug, a genre laced in dreams and memories of love and heartbreak. I felt lucky to be a part of her vision. I fell deeper under her spell one song at a time, listening on repeat and walking at night alone with her as my guide.
I was on a plane in October moving in the opposite direction of some unfinished business that left me sad and lonely, and Imogen kept me company on the flight. I listened to “Hide and Seek” all the way to Milwaukee, wishing I had done something different, wishing I knew what the hell was going on, certain that another voice couldn’t validate my tears like hers. It was then that I started calling her one of my favorite artists, that I felt truly connected with her. Very few musicians have grabbed a hold of me like her. Her ability to play my heart and ease my mind has only been rivaled by Fiona Apple, who is certainly my favorite musician – my only true female love. Imogen’s dynamic style quenches me at the right times. Sometimes her voice tip-toes and whispers sadness, sometimes it wails in vengeance, in victory. I relate to her; she’s weak yet strong, she smiles in the face of her anticipated predicaments, finding humor in the irony of her life – no matter how ill her mind falls as a result. I think I’ve read her well enough to know her. This is how I mark true art. Only truth and authentic emotional display could be as transparent.
So while we sat on the cold floor of The Rave last night waiting for her to approach the stage, I felt a kind of Christmas-like excitement. Waiting for her to open up her set, I saw those in my company as disciples, fellow worshippers waiting for their dose of her prophecy. She came to the stage pirouetting, holding a large flower, looking as whispy and fairy-like as ever. The crowd, as intimate and small as it was, sat in chairs at tables and stood respectfully – gave her an arena welcome. One concert-goer screamed to her Highness “I want to make crop circles in your carpet!” and she giggled a low giggle into her microphone, smiling as if she was flattered. She stood a giant above us, barefooted and draped in light fabric. Imogen introduced us to her band – a couple keyboards, a box of strings for plucking, a computer, a voice parrot, and a mixer. She spoke softly and quickly to get the part she hated over with. She came to sing, to play her music. It was obvious in her body language that she is naturally timid, naturally a musical performer, not an orator or storyteller.
She got straight to the music, and from the second she started, I lost track of time. I knew most of the songs and fell immediately under the trance of those just introduced to me. Her pitch was dead on and she played her instruments gracefully, moving from one to the other, putting entire tracks together by herself. Even here, while she synthesized vocals and echoed piano parts, each melody was a product of her pure voice, her unmistakable knack for originality. Her highest notes were higher and her lowest notes made me hold my breath. She hit every word with force or care, enforcing more emotion than I’ve seen on a stage. Her movements were eccentric and an obvious extension of her lyrical madness. And the crowd sat silently, moving its lips to the words but murmuring the words softly, so as to sing with her but not overpower her presence. The lights flickered and jumped when she’d burst her easy stream of lyrics into a burst of rage and loud instrumental demonstration. A light above her head beamed yellow and the stage darkened as she’d decrescendo into loneliness. She was the master of her own stage and obvious producer of each ion of her performance. I could feel the fellowship of amazement throughout the room – as if she brought her sport and we were spectators viewing a feat of music. I was hypnotized, with tears dripping from my jawline onto my pant leg. Sometimes PBecca would grab my hand and rub the top of it with her thumb during our parts.
Particularly during “Hide and Seek.” Imogen’s lights went blue and cold, she left her station of instruments and carried a harnessed keyboard mid-stage, under a dim light. She called it her “last song” then giggled at the cliché of musical artists leaving the stage then returning only by the command of foot vibrations and uproar in unison. An easily tickled woman she is, almost mocking her tentative fame. She loves the stage, her fans and obviously worships her craft. But she doesn’t take herself seriously - she stands bare, almost cowering with fear from the reality of her words, her open book of memories and revealing thoughts. She’s not a star, she’s a woman with a story, and it’s an enchanting one. During “Hide and Seek,” she was remarkably on key with the acapella-esque track. She was without the barrier of her many synthesized instruments and the busy work of playing her piano. But she felt natural still – the song couldn’t have been more beautiful. Not a sound came from the crowd, not a movement was rustled. When she hit the bridge, my favorite part of the song, she handled its tempo poignantly. She even breathed between each line with a kind of precision. She nailed it, she delivered it live the way an artist should – personally. Even though she was on point, I felt her real momentary connection to the crowd, to the words emerge throughout. She recreated it for us.
In a phrase – she nailed it. I didn’t doubt that she would, I only lamented the possibility that her music could become even more a part of me once I’d felt her touch me with it in person. Her smirk was humble and her banter was common. In-between the formalities of sharing discourse with the audience, she blew me away. Each track tasted differently, sounded more vivid. It was a true experience, and I couldn’t leave her concert without a review and true promotion of the reality of an artisan of music.
Some of my favorite Imogen tracks: “Speeding Cars”, “Getting Scared”, “Hide and Seek”, “The Walk”, “Missing You”.
Check her out. If you haven’t already.