In the primeval mush of information overload that is the Internet, it’s hard to find something truly unique and original. Consider that statement, and multiply the uncertainty by 10 when speaking of music. Because there are no more pockets of isolation left, any schmuck can post his band’s videos and music, and the latest generation of musicians has grown up more on half-assed guitar solos on YouTube than properly woodshedded fare. An older generation of musicians still remains, though; the people who grew up before Hotmail and Netscape are still around, and their pockets of development exist and manifest themselves in strange and sometimes beautiful ways.
Now consider Imogen Heap (that’s not a stage name). She straddles these two distinct generations of musicians. Having come of age in the early 90’s, her early work just pipped the advent of the internet. Still, it’s the sort of modern electronica that translates very well on to YouTube. Frou Frou, her side project with, uh, some guy, almost seems pre-determined for internet fame. Short, innovative and trippy songs seem to make up the bulk of Details, Frou Frou’s first and so far only album. The bands YouTubeability is massively helped by the beautiful, soaring “Let Go”. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.
This album, for the uninitiated, is mostly very good electropop overlaid with some surprising arrangements (Indian flutes FTW) and Imogen Heap’s breathy, emotional, Matthew Bellamy-meets-Joanna-Newsom voice. For an artist who is so sonically experimentative, the lyrics are surprisingly confessional and straightforward. It doesn’t get more straightforward than “It’s Good To be In Love”. No bad thing, just that the more experimentative the artist, the more oblique the lyrics tend to be. Sometimes the directness is very powerful. “’Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown” has to be one of the most seductive lines I’ve heard in a long time. But it can get a little bit cloying at times, with “Hey There, Delilah” exceptions being hard to pull off. Still, I suppose there is value in straightforward expression when most smart people express themselves either ironically or with self-conscious understatement.
As a general rule, I found the more experimental tracks more intriguing. They lose none of the strong melodies that characterize Heap’s music, and append crazy sonic experiments for good measure. The high-pitched denouement to the chorus on “Must be Dreaming”, for instance, is gooseflesh raising. I would’ve liked a slightly more adventurous album, seeing how two avant-garde artists got together. There are many moments when there seems to be a conscious attempt to rein in too much arthousery. This tension produces mixed results, with “Psychobabble” being a lesson in strange and beautiful arrangements(cue the Bollywood string section), while “Must be Dreaming” ends up sounding odd overall despite that chorus. At the negative extreme, “It’s Good to be in Love” sounds too conservative, and boring.
There is definitely an Indian music influence there, with a number of songs referencing Classical Indian raga melodies and Bollywood inspired strings. It’s this combination of Boards of Canada and Baazigar, which makes for the most compelling moments on this album, such as the amazing, amazing “Let Go”. Also, sample the amazing middle section of “Shh”, and tell me it doesn’t make you want to trip.
Anyway, in summing up, this is a good album, but it falls in the same way Blackfield did. It’s the slightly underwhelming result of two very creative people coming together and making the whole checks and balances thing work all too well. This sounds somewhat right.
- El Bajista