Memories Are Now
This is the album where Jesca Hoop moves off the One To Watch list and firmly onto the One To Listen To list; the record likely to stay there all year; its production (Blake Mills, once again) exquisite, its songs deep, the performances intoxicating.
Jesca Hoop has been making strong music across the last decade and it’s usually mentioned in her back-story that she did some nannying work for Tom Waits – the mind does boggle, I guess, as to what she might have picked up from that, the use of tinkering rhythms as part of the broader melodic landscape is my guess. But it’s only a guess. Hoop also released a duet record with Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine) and though his whine was too much for me she presented the iron-strength on that record.
Memories Are Now is something altogether different and stronger from anything she’s previously offered. The opening, title track rides on a thumb-strummed bass-line as double-tracked vocals guide us in and through a musical prose poem. But it’s the second track, The Lost Sky, that announces this – the album, this set of songs, maybe even this song just on its own – as the best thing Hoop has done. It’s a ghost-world that vacuums you up, you swirl in the world of that song, Blake Mills so precise (it’s just him and Hoop offering the instrumentation). All at once this feels like a home-grown recording that just happens to have the best production-sound going. There are hints of Patti Smith’s songwriting in there, the surety, the subtle build of the song.
Elsewhere, with Animal Kingdom Chaotic, there are hints of PJ Harvey’s recent work. And Joanna Newsom’s for that matter.
Lyrically, there are great surprises in these songs, the sudden twists/turns of taut short-story writing, “I’m living the dream in a dream I’m buried alive” is the killer-opener on Cut Connection. As this claustrophobic world is further described in an almost Lynch-ian feel the mellifluous guitar lines from Blake Mills lap at the sides of the lyrics.
The deft Songs of Old is another mini-masterpiece, and after just 39 minutes and nine songs the album is done. Begging you to it play again. Tempting you away from any trite nu-folk, ‘gothic’ tags. On the album’s final two tracks Hoop confirms herself a songwriter worth the salt. Pegasi could have come from the pen of Suzanne Vega, or Neil Finn for that matter.
And the bruised blues-sway The Coming has me thinking of Margaret Glaspy, of Laura Marling…but it’s a reminder, too, of the voice – both vocally and in a writing sense – that Hoop has built across a handful of recordings. To arrive now, fully formed and offering her finest.