Fresh from an Iron & Wine collab and stepping out for a debut album on Subpop, Jesca Hoop’s idiosyncratic brand of singer-songwriterism befits the leftfield turn the label has taken recently. Calling to mind at once the torch-songs of Angel Olsen and the low-key experimental turns of Glasser and Fiona Apple, Hoop’s confidence even in her quieter moments is a real winner on songs like ‘The Lost Sky’ and the eponymous title track.
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Hot off the heels of a collaborative record with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam -- which our entire staff roster, one by one, failed to listen to -- the longtime folk-experienced Jesca Hoop returns with another solo record that perfectly shows off her cavernous musical style. You can throw that homogenous singer-songwriter descriptor around as much as you want, but few songs in the genre sound like these ones, which match the emotional bluster with great tectonic shifts in melody and structure.
Opener “Memories are Now” is thesis enough. It’s a wonderfully leftfield pop song that shifts between sparse acoustic hacking and euphoric harmonies that build and contain a climax in mere seconds. It sounds miraculous -- with its percussive plucks recalling Arthur Russell, it sets up a record that’s as much a songwriter’s personal journey as it is a great technical feat. “The Lost Sky” matches a bass line as good as Angel Olsen’s with urgent plucking a la Bill Callahan, her voice moving with a phenomenal urgency, like someone trying to run their way out of being lost.
Hoop’s curious life story serves as a good reveal for her music -- among other tidbits, she used to nanny Tom Waits’ kids -- but each element of her music also suggests her influence, direct or not, on our current rotation of indie folk musicians. You can hear the picking patterns and specific timbres of recording in “Animal Kingdom Chaotic” as having a supremely Sufjan feel, while a distorted and earth-scorched tune like “Cut Connection” could remind different listeners of First Aid Kit or Richard Dawson. It’s a record with real folk music touchstones, but it moves in its own unique way, led by Hoop’s jagged, angular approach to pastoral music.
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