Following last years critically acclaimed collaborative album, 'Love Letter For Fire', with Iron And Wire's Sam Beam, Jesca Hoop returns with a new solo album, 'Memories Are Now'. Jesca's new nine song release is her seventh album in ten years and is as stripped back and minimalist as anything she's previously delivered.
Hoop's song writing skills are undiminished on her new work and her voice is given free range by the uncluttered, sparse, sometimes stark arrangements. 'Memories Are Now' shifts through lullaby melodies to more complex and angularly agitated compositions. The new record is produced in collaboration with her Zeitgeist Studios stablemate Blake Mills and has clearly been given an expression and form of its own with a rather unfamiliar feel throughout.
Hoop and Mills have chosen to "strip away layers" and make the recording "quite raw, human and sparse, even unsettling" and in doing so have certainly given the songs a unique character. In some ways it's a little like reading a book that isn't at all familiar in its setting; your imagination is left to fill in and conjure up the missing information.
The title track of the album opens up the new set of songs with Hoop's voice carrying the song through a wonderfully worked mix of melodies, harmonies and layered forms. The accompaniment barely changes with the build and break coming solely from the vocal takes. The first single from the album, 'The Lost Sky', follows on in a similar vein allowing Hoop's expressive voice to deliver up a devastatingly heart breaking refrain.
On 'Simon Says' the arrangement is no more populated with anything bar the bare minimums but does take on a differing form, veering into Kimya Dawson territory as Jesca bemoans, cleverly and with a wry humorous slant, the digital generation. The side swipe at our reliance on technology is also born out with an equally deft touch as "the computer says no" on 'Animal Kingdom Chaotic'.
Arguably 'Memories Are Now' works best on the more immediately accessible, more obvious songs. The power, potency and revolving hook driven through on 'Cut Connection', the folksy naivety of 'Pegasi' and the wonderfully worked, Laura Veirs flavoured, 'Unsaid' achieve a connection in a way that is more difficult for some of her other songs here. Where Jesca Hoop truly shines however is at the very end of the album. With 'The Coming' Hoop delivers up a song that is as emotive as they come, brimming with expression and anguish. As Hoop questions the role and teachings of a religion she was brought up on she is clearly impassioned to shed her misgivings. I must confess to having initially wondered whether or not this was a cover, for this Ms Hoop I sincerely apologise. The reason for my doubt? Well, it's such a fantastic song (Not that many of hers aren't). It already has a feeling of familiarity to it; a warmth, a depth and a character, and is out of synch to a large degree with the previous eight tracks. Hoop, almost in a Jeff Buckley does 'Hallelujah' way, has produced a song that surpasses anything else on her latest album with a wonderfully written, passionately performed track of intimate beauty.
'Memories Are Now' is an undulating album with a very interesting, slightly incohesive character. At times it does try a little too hard. Where the songs have been stripped down you wonder what was taken out, or what could have been. (It's like 'The House Doctor' has been sent round to de-clutter). The instrumentation too is sometimes odd, especially what sounds like a rubber band wrapped around a box where a good bass would have done a better job and, because of the sparsity on some of the tracks it can at times feel like Elizabethan or conservatory music. For all of its flaws though 'Memories Are Now' is still a very good album that is as intriguing and complex as it is engaging and enjoyable.
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