Album Review: Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now

By on Tuesday, 21st February 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Angel Ceballos

Jesca Hoop album coverOver a decade into a music career that has been largely self-propelled from day one, singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop has naturally developed a tough skin. She wholeheartedly embraces that hard-won independent streak on her latest album ‘Memories Are Now’, which dropped last week courtesy of Sub Pop Records. Hoop and producer Blake Mills (Fiona Apple, Laura Marling) took the opportunity to break out on their own, recording Hoop’s fourth LP outside their familiar Zeitgeist Studios setting, where they previously worked under the watchful eye of American producer and A&R professional Tony Berg. Hoop says that on this record, Mills pushed her to streamline the musical arrangements, working without hesitation and using whole live takes where possible to maintain authenticity and momentum.

The album cuts right to the chase with eponymous lead track ‘Memories Are Now’. The song’s musical arrangement consists almost entirely of a stark guitar ostinato and Hoop’s vocal melody, with dynamic and textural interest created by means of artfully layered vocal harmonies. The austerity of the instrumentation allows Hoop to make her lyrical presence known in the unequivocal lines “I’m coming through, no matter what you say / I’ve got work to be doing, if you’re not here to help, go find some other life to ruin / let me show you the door”.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/s79pNrycneQ[/youtube]

The album’s mood swiftly shifts from confrontational to reflective in ‘The Lost Sky’. We featured the haunting and beautifully-constructed lead single as our Video of the Moment #2227 at the end of last year, and it stands out as the centerpiece of the album proper. Working at the time without the benefit of a press release, our editor Mary interpreted the song and the promo video as navigating a romantic relationship with a mentally ill partner. It turns out that her instincts about emotional devastation and mental distraction weren’t completely wrong, as Hoop has since explained in her own description of the song’s obsessively repeating lyrical verses:

I have a dear friend who was in a horrific accident that left him in a coma for two weeks. We thought we had lost him. He woke up to find himself silently divorced. This was a heartbreak for all related, and I wrote this while we were waiting for him to wake up. His experience drove me to explore my own relationship with abandonment. When you don’t have any say in how a relationship plays out, when you’re cut off, there’s a relentless loop that plays again and again in your own mind of those words that you would say . . . if love was fair enough to let you speak it.

Gently plucked guitar and clicking percussion open ’Animal Kingdom Chaotic’, before Hoop’s chant-like vocals come in, creating a hypnotic pattern of call and response between the melody and the backing harmonies. The uneven rhythmic pattern of the central lines “you know you wanna but the computer says no / you know you wanna take back control” adds to the sonic interest and the thematic intrigue. The ironically sing-song quality of ‘Simon Says’ is balanced by a heavily distorted guitar line and rapid-fire pop culture references behind quaintly folky vocal harmonies and rhythms. The similarly alliterative ‘Cut Connection’ is vocally harsher and more forcefully punctuated in its visceral tribal-style rhythms, as Hoop invites “come on, be the drummer in my heart.”

Gentle and gradually modulatory, ’Pegasi’ draws inspiration from familiar Greek mythology in its romantic metaphor: “through many love lit moons / I served my rider well / I suffered the bid / and took his spur into my side.” The instrumental harmonies behind the song’s joyful opening verse are sweetly triadic, but they take a deft, finely-tuned minor key turn as doubt and despair creep into Hoop’s lyrical lines.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/IQlnhaR_ARQ[/youtube]

Hoop imagines two album tracks centering on religion as being “twins” on the album. “Religion is one of those things that wells up, and takes over, and shows itself in dangerous ways when it’s out of balance”, she explains. ‘Songs of Old’ makes use of common Christian imagery as well as some of Hoop’s most delicately beautiful singing in its thoughtful exploration of the social and cultural damage that can come from viewing one’s own religion as all-encompassing and supreme over others. Album closer ‘The Coming’ is a more overt renunciation of Christianity, with Hoop declaring in bookend lyrics “Jesus turned in his crown of thorns today . . . and the coming never came.”

‘Memories Are Now’ has its moments of lyrical elegance and traditional folk beauty, but those qualities never seem to be Hoop’s overarching concern in this collection of songs. Rather, the album leaves the distinct impression of artistic decisiveness, marked by a thematic and sonic sense of self-assurance that is often missing in the overanalysed subtleties and mildly suggestive subversions of the alt-folk genre.

8.5/10

Jesca Hoop’s fourth album ‘Memories Are Now’ is currently available on Sub Pop Records. TGTF’s previous coverage of Jesca Hoop is right back this way.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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