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One of England's most beloved contemporary songwriters, Imogen Heap has wowed us for around fifteen whole years in a huge variety of ways. We've seen her tackle the brittle arena of trip-hop and downtempo electronica in her early years, the world of massive stonkin' synthpop with Frou Frou and we've seen Jason Derulo butcher arguably her greatest sonic achievement, 'Hide and Seek'. After 2009's Ellipse, she took a well-deserved sabbatical to toil at passion-projects and iron out a few existential niggles.

The fruits of the vacation are upon us. Sparks, Heap's fourth official solo album, is the result of almost half a decade of high-concept experiments and avant-garde indulgences. It's a remarkably ambitious concept record; Heap's cobbled together a hodgepodge bindle, a patchwork quilt of mind-boggling Frankenstein gambits. She's pushing the borders of music technology, advancing the creative world. Heap has discovered a vacuum; where some may approach a void or a problem by walking away or around it, Heap's ethos appears to be: "How can I cut through the issue?"

The main drawback of a almanac LP like this is its inherent lack of cohesion. Being an assembly of ideas dragged together without a true core - there's the argument that Heap herself, or the broad spectrum of musical technology, can be a theme, but it's tenuous - Sparks is an album that, somehow, succeeds. Like a 'greatest hits' of Heap's past five years, it plucks at random threads, and returns with a massive album, albeit a ramshackle one.

You've got collaborations with deadmau5 on 'Telemiscommunications', a slight ditty with warm electronics and fingersnap rhythms, and with Intel x RjDJ on the generative melange 'Run-Time' (also a companion piece to a running app). She's vocally proud of the time shifts and pace alterations, and deservedly so. It's the biggest 'standard' pop far on the album, wielding dubstep drops and gert hooks to snare Monstro. 'Climb To Sakteng' and 'Cycle Song' were featured on a documentary about Bhutan, and 'Minds Without Fear' was included on Indian TV show The Dewarists. These are not even the most outlandish, fantastical compositions.

'Propeller Seeds', crafted using 3D sound, as well as 'Lifelines' are manufactured from found-sound samples - things like heartbeats, dishwasher doors, striking matches and water droplets. The latter of the tracks is part celebration of new life, part monument to hope in the face of the 2011 Sendai earthquake and tsunami. 'The Listening Chair' a paean to life in extremis, used for the Proms, sees Heap dedicate portions to each stage of life - and it's due to be added to as she ages. Quite a lot of the album was able to be sculpted with her Mi.Mu gloves, bringing the sci-fi concept of gestural music to life; it's like Ironman playing an invisible theramin.

Truly, there's too much to go into in a mere review. It would take a bloody thesis to decipher, discover and comprehend the 14-track behemoth.

The most vital strand of Sparks, probably, is its quality. Can we actually listen to it, or is it a jury-rigged mountain of flotsam and jetsam, floating without purpose? Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the hands from which it was created, it's the former. A marvellously complex, sometimes too-clever-for-it's-own-good LP, but it's great nonetheless. It's rife with melody, earnest, life-affirming and everyman lyrics. Love, life, loss, identity, the future and social cohesion are all tackled. She toys with existentialism and the meaning of life in an increasingly technology-based world.

This is a rare gem. It's not only an awe-inspiring clutch of noises, capable of making you laugh, cry and dance, it's also wildly intelligent. It asks questions, prompts discussion and offers escapes from the day-to-day mundane; we can glimpse Heap's sinister sonic laboratory, and her new place in the world. No longer is she here to just make music - her research has led her to adopt and grow into the role of inventor. Artisan. Philosophical catalyst. The touchpaper of music's future and culture's technological guru. Lofty claims they may well be, but who else is gambling their career on a pair of gloves that will change the way we experience dance, theatre, music, mime and storytelling? Who else is engaging with gestural and generative noise?

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