Songstress returns from musical hiatus with long-awaited album

It’s been a long time coming — four years to be exact — but Imogen Heap has finally released her third solo album, Ellipse. It’s an event comparable to the second coming for her devoted cult following, and boy, was it worth the wait.

In recent years, the British electropop artist has become a ubiquitous, though frequently mispronounced, name in the music industry.

A lovely heap · Electropop artist Imogen Heap, whose music appeared on The O.C., released her third solo album, Ellipse, last week. - Photo courtesy of Imogen Heap

A lovely heap · Electropop artist Imogen Heap, whose music appeared on The O.C., released her third solo album, Ellipse, last week. - Photo courtesy of Imogen Heap

Even if you’re not one of Heap’s diehard enthusiasts, you’ve probably heard her synthesizer-heavy tunes in movies like Garden State (as part of music duo Frou Frou), The Holiday and The Chronicles of Narnia. Her songs have also graced TV shows such as The O.C. and Heroes, rendering their climactic moments hauntingly poetic.

Hollywood’s affection for the 31-year-old songstress is understandable; Heap’s inventive tunes are dynamic and densely textured, each one an auditory tour de force with emotional highs and lows.

All the recent attention, however, had many worried in lieu of Ellipse’s release: Would the new album live up to heightened expectations?

Heap’s most revered attribute has always been her audacity — her eagerness to experiment with different sounds and open up new worlds of musical possibility that we never knew existed.

Ellipse proves that Heap is still just as imaginative, inspired and, yes, audacious as she was when she first marked her electropop territory in 1998 with i Megaphone, a rebellious, attitude-filled debut. Though far from perfect, Heap’s first solo album was a courageous and innovative blip on the indie-electronic music radar.

After i Megaphone, Heap joined forces with Guy Sigsworth to make up indie duo Frou Frou. The pair released Details in 2002, a considerably lighter but still incredibly original collection of electropop songs that enjoyed a resurge of attention when “Let Go” was featured in the final scene of Garden State.

Then in 2005 came Speak for Yourself, Heap’s fearless and eloquent second solo album. The evocatively slow, vocoder-heavy a cappella number “Hide and Seek” is everything we hope for in a song: different, original and affecting. “Just for Now,” “Headlock” and “The Moment I Said It” were just a few other stirring numbers on the breathtaking album that had fans begging for more.

If there’s one big no-no in the music industry, it’s following a great album with a mediocre one. So while Imogen Heap took her time with her next album, we waited. And waited.

Now, with Ellipse released at last, the woman can sleep in peace — and we can blissfully enjoy her oh-so-sweet sounds.

The album opens with full force with “First Train Home,” a quintessential Imogen Heap number with a solid hook, catchy refrain and interesting vocal percussions.

The second track, “Wait It Out,” is elegiac and poignant, eloquently conveying a sense of impatience, longing and melancholy in its simple musicianship and lyrics. The chorus is understated but meaningful: Everybody says time heals everything / But what of the wretched hollow? / The endless inbetween / Are we just going to wait it out?

But “Earth,” an a cappella arrangement, is the first true stunner on the album. For three minutes and 35 seconds, Heap’s riveting vocal harmonies and percussions stop you in your tracks, making you wonder how so many sounds can originate from one person.

That sense of surprise and intrigue stays with you for the rest of Ellipse. “Tidal” is buoyant and optimistic where “2-1” is dark and heavy. The whimsical “Aha!” and cheeky “Bad Body Double” reveal Heap at her most mischievous, recalling the attitude of her debut album. “The Fire,” an instrumental track, acts as a pleasant surprise and breather on the record. “Canvas,” with its soft, flowing melody and gentle guitar-plucking, is just plain hypnotic.

One of the album’s quirkiest numbers is “Little Bird,” an extended, poetic apostrophe that, combined with the dreamlike synthesizer layered beneath the vocals, is completely ethereal and affecting.

Attitude and audacity aside, Heap shines the most in her simplest, quietest moments, reminding us of the recession-proven truth that sometimes less is more.

The album’s closer, “Half Life,” ends the record with a contemplative, lyrical whisper, holding you close to the very end.

Ellipse isn’t one of those albums you can put on for background music; it calls for you to drop everything and listen. Each song is a gift you have to carefully unwrap, a story you have to read from beginning to end and a work of art you have to examine from a variety of angles to truly appreciate.

In the era of formulaic, unoriginal and mass-produced songs, that, my friends, is what we call music.