Release Date: Feb 10, 2017
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
I'm driving. I'm always driving. And so some sights you take for granted: forests that border the interstates, shuttered food stands, railroad tracks. Now I'm sitting stationary, trying to write this review of Jesca Hoop in the way that most people write reviews - listen enough times, juxtapose the sound with other artists that sound similar, compare and contrast.
Jesca Hoop returns with her fourth solo album, following last year's incredible Sub Pop-released Love Letter for Fire with Iron & Wine's Sam Beam. Signing to the label to release her latest material, Hoop's new offering is as unique as it is universally empowering, ploughing the depths of fragility, defiance and everything in between. Title track Memories Are Now is a strong, seize-the-day call to arms for the bereft.
The leisurely bass plunks that open the title track seem to fall on beat almost by lucky happenstance. They bely the song's confrontational, biting nature. Unlike so many contemporary folk artists who opt to muse on pretty, distant shapes through an unfocused lens, Hoop's eye is razor sharp, picking up on sharp edges and unseemly shadows. "I've lived enough life / I've earned my stripes / With my knife in the ground this is mine", Hoop sings, daring to be defied and setting the tone for the rest of the album.
T he worst that could be said about the new Jesca Hoop album, her first solo collection of new material in five years, is that it doesn't always cohere. This shouldn't come as a surprise ("I have an identity crisis every time I write a catalogue of songs," she said in 2011). Her sound can switch abruptly from gossamer folk to gritty bar-room blues, while the songs encompass complaints against lacklustre lovers (The Lost Sky), satire on computer domination (Animal Kingdom Chaotic) and the ballad of a flying horse (Pegasi).
Santa Rosa-born and raised singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop has never been one to shy away from the weird and wonderful. Embracing complex vocal harmonies and a lush mélange of offbeat instrumentation to develop an unusual form of beauty, all at once graceful and frenetic, has pretty much been Hoop's billing from the start. This much evidenced in songs like "Summertime" and "Havoc in Heaven" from her 2007 debut album, Kismet.
I n 1970, novelty rocker and politician Screaming Lord Sutch released an album called Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends, a title that deliberately drew attention to the fact that his backing musicians - Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, John Bonham and Noel Redding among them - were much more famous than he was. It was a ploy that backfired in spectacular style: Rolling Stone called the album "absolutely terrible"; most of the heavy friends decided they didn't want to be friends after all, and claimed they'd been duped into recording it, Page going so far as to call the enterprise "criminal". But at least it gave the era a memorable phrase: from then on, the term "heavy friends" denoted an artist enjoying the career-boosting patronage of their better-known peers, but whose music was overshadowed by said peers' presence.
Jesca Hoop's fourth proper solo LP and first for Sub Pop is entitled Memories Are Now, a reference to the concept of seizing the day. With Blake Mills back to produce, the album encompasses much of the range of her previous output, which routinely challenged the boundaries of indie rock and folk, encouraging a label more along the lines of unconventional singer/songwriter. It follows her likewise free-spirited but more rustic duet album with Sam Beam, Love Letter for Fire, by less than a year, and any new fans from that collaboration may well delight in its expressiveness right alongside established fans.
"Animal Kingdom Chaotic," the centerpiece of Jesca Hoop's fourth album, opens with a sound that may take a moment or two to identify. That clacking rhythm certainly sounds like an old-school typewriter rather than a computer keyboard, which may be her slyest joke in a song about life lived online. "I say it is possible," she sings, then answers herself: "…but your computer says no!" That phrase becomes a testy mantra, its cadence growing trickier with each repetition.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN Granted, Jesca Hoop can be an acquired taste. That said, it takes little time for her atmospheric ambiance and percolating rhythms to grab hold and prove irresistibly addictive. Her melodies generally take second place to their treatments and arrangements, creating an overall effect that provides more than mere instant gratification.
Photo by Angel Ceballos Jesca Hoop recorded Memories Are Now in a flurry, creating a spare sound with plenty of open space. She sings with herself, matching vocals and moving into various modes as the songs require. It's an immediate album, with Hoop very present as the artist. It's done with enough assurance to carry it off, both in Hoop's performances and her lyrical concerns.