Monday, August 24, 2009

#129. 'You don't care a bit'

Imogen Heap "Hide and Seek"

I never watched an entire episode of The O.C. Not a single one. I tried when my friends were raving about it but it never clicked for me, just looked like any other soap opera about teens or near teens that I'd seen over the years. Of course the big thing was that the characters were well versed i nthe more popular side of indie-rock and its creators were great at choosing music that was a) appropriate to the scene, b) pretty damn good and c) not overplayed at that point. I may not have liked the half episode of it I watched but I appreciated that it was at least trying to use some under the radar artists to soundtrack the mediocrity.

Even though I never watched the show, the scene where Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek" comes on is one that got linked to me a few times. The scene itself was laughable, and the sudden appearance of the last part of the song on the soundtrack was even more so, but the song itself was utterly chilling, and retained that aura outside of that context. Describing the song on paper doesn't exactly do it any justice, but at its base it's just a chorus of Heap's vocals, multitracked and filtered through a voicebox of some sort. No instrumental at all, just vocals. Part of me thinks that this was never meant to be a single, it just has the air of one of those experiments that an artist will throw into the middle of an album for some reason that was never expected to do much other than show the artist on an interesting diversion. Those types of song are rarely this good though.

The first words you hear are 'Where are we?/What the hell is going on?' which is the exact reaction one might conceivably have to hearing the song for the first time. The sound is alien, like if someone decided to record a choir under water, but also inviting. The rest of the lyrics appear to be more abstract images than cohesive story, which is fine as far as I'm concerned. The sound of the words is much more important than the meaning in this case, and the way they sound is just perfect. However, looking a bit more deeply at the lyrics it read like a snapshot of the moment you get bad news. The minutiae of the scene are there in the two verses, but the best part is the fall out after the second chorus. Lines 'Why'd you say that you only meant well, of course you did' are rendered with as much bile as the ethereal underwater choir effect can contain and the final resigned 'you don't care a bit's are as fragile as the prior section was brash. That's as much a testament to Heap's vocal ability as anything. er range throughout the song is awesome to hear, from the smoky, lower register she uses in the verses to the higher, more ethereal voice she adopts for the chorus and all points in between. I wouldn't say she's one of the greatest vocalists out there, but she's got range and knows how to use it without coming off as annoying.

The bare-bones nature of the song itself would make it seem like a logical conclusion to my 'simple elements made amazing by method X' theme, but the reality is that the way it comes across is much more complex than it is simple. The layers upon layers of vocals that make up the song seem to all be treated slightly differently in their production, making their interactions with the other vocal layers play as much more than a simple harmony. The way that as Heap's vocals get closer to the top of her range the extra layers seem to fall away completely is utterly breathtaking as well. Really the construction of the whole song is noteworthy for using such a complex but limited palette to conjure up what sounds like a complete song as opposed to a mere experimental lark without a tune behind it.

Coming up tomorrow: Whatever became of Six Finger Satellite?

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