Imogen Heap, "Ellipse" (RCA)
Freak du jour Heap probably will hold onto her scenester cred with her new CD. The oddball U.K. singer/songwriter with a penchant for vocoders pushes herself into another dense set of claustrophobic intimacy, a performing method that landed her music on episodes of "The O.C.," in a "Saturday Night Live" digital short and in an Apple commercial, among other places.
The baffling songs on "Ellipse" often seem important, although Heap's execution tends to overshadow her lyrics and whatever meaning they might have. Such is the case for the inventive "Earth," awash in overdubbed vocals, as well as the one-two punch of the thick-electro "Swoon" (where Heap is baiting her trap for a date) and the even-more-urgent "Tidal" that proves inescapable. Also, the dark and theatrical chamber-pop of "Aha!" is reminiscent of an early Kate Bush tangent or a more contemporary Rasputina song.
Heap's emotional output is sometimes sacrificed in the unconventional arrangements, her voice just another artificial-sounding instrument in the clamor. Yet like any good eccentric, she finds her moments and makes them count. On the fluttering "Between Sheets," which is more dreamlike than seductive, Heap flies away on a blissful, piano-based fantasy. And sweetly charming opener "First Train Home" builds from a misty intro to a full-steam ramble as the homesick heroine desperately seeks a return to security. Heap also lets down her guard with a straightforward confessional, "Half Life," supporting a fragile alliance of nerves and hope.
Ultimately, Heap triumphs with an artful blend of aural innovation and heartfelt passion.
CHUCK CAMPBELL, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
Third Eye Blind, "Ursa Major" (Sony Red)
Even after six years, it seems frontman Stephan Jenkins (pictured) hasn't spent enough time away from Third Eye Blind. This comeback album is just as much a product of his struggles with writer's block as were its repeated delays. Retreads of his Californian trio's sunny alt-rock tunes lack their predecessors' infectious hooks. Awkward appeals to lesbians and rap stars abound. And the instrumental closer "Carnival Barker" inexplicably aborts after less than 90 seconds, fading out just as the pretty thing begins to coalesce. It's hard to expect much from a band that was good only for its singles a decade ago, but considering that the most salvageable song on "Ursa Major" is the pleasantly modest "Monotov's Private Opera," maybe it's time for another break.
JAKOB DOROF, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER