The cover to today’s album has caught my eye more than a few times at work, and I always regretted passing it by without purchasing it. I eventually remembered the album long enough to go ahead and download it on Zune, then listened to it a couple of time and loved it, and then went back to work to find that the CD is gone now. Oh well, I’ll have to buy it later, but for now let’s go ahead and talk about a lovely album from a unique little girl:
I had a few hesitations about this album at first, I mean, what if it turned out to be some boring (or worse, indie) sounding hour-long diatribe into senseless… THINGS?! My fear was exacerbated by the endorsement on the back of the CD by none other than Tom Waits, for whom I have an ambivalent appreciation.
Turns out “Tom Waits” was the farthest thing from my mind as soon as the obscure stringed instrument and bird calls carry in the simple folky tune “Summertime”, but hang on. Simple? There’s about 3 or 4 part harmonies going on at every moment. It’s a little imposing at first, but after the first minute and a half, her voice comes back in again, and it’s completely different. Suddenly she’s singing low? What trickery! This is just the hook I had been looking for in a recording, as simple as it seems, the idea of changing the very tone and structure of your singing to serve a different part of the song (the “adult” vocals compared to the “kids” vocals) is something I last heard from a singer called Nick Drake. Bravo!
So just when I strapped myself in for a smooth late-night swim in the river that Tom Waits promised, suddenly the album takes an abrupt turn. The track “Seed Of Wonder” starts with reggae-flavored/accented rhythmic singing, and a really sweet sounding melody coming in every other verse. Then 3 different vocal parts come in and sing different parts, and suddenly I have no idea what’s going on, but I’m interested. The other part I love about this particular track is that it’s 6 minutes long and never really stays in one place for too long.
It was then that I had to learn more about this mysterious girl. Turns out she is not only endorsed by Tom Waits, she’s somewhat of a protege of his, and came into her sound merely by the process of writing stuff she wanted to hear. How novel! Well, as a huge stickler for originality, that was about all I needed to know to enjoy the rest of the album with a mind open for whatever she wanted to throw my way.
And throw she does! After the multi-instrumental goodness of the previous tracks, she strips it down to just a delicately plucked acoustic guitar and really up-front vocals for “Enemy”. Though the guitar remains at the center of the mix, other melodies and harmonies come in from different sources just to stay a while, and they are certainly welcome.
The sounds of a film projector open up the track “Silverscreen”, which she sings with a very strange accent (she doesn’t seem to be fixed on any particular way of singing as demonstrated in the first track). The song is kind of “noir” for lack of a less sleepy term to use. I appreciate it, though the influence of Tom Waits is starting to show a bit. I don’t know though, anyone can get an oboe to play a haunting melody against an upright bassline, why contribute it to just one person?
“Money” comes in with a nice straightforward message about how commercial success colors the sounds that we hear on albums that apparently aren’t Kismet. It’s a much more straightforward pop song where the typical synth crap is replaced by lovely acoustic instruments and a Jesca’s smooth vocal delivery. I really can’t explain how much I appreciate when actual “thought” is put into arrangements like this. The bridge is not to be missed either, particularly for CUSSES!
Then Jesca winds up the next song, “Dreams In The Hollow”, with some wind-up tool, which I guess releases the French lines sung instead of English ones. I guess French is a better language than English, after all.
Then we have a lovely acoustic song about… Hurricane Katrina?! Well it’s mentioned in a line, I guess I haven’t figured out the rest of “Love Is All We Have” yet, lyrically anyway. It’s another near-soliloquy like “Enemy”, where other sounds come in just to visit for a while and build the song up a bit without distracting from the central performances. Beauty!
Just in case you forgot that this is an album of variety, the next song is a number that defies explanation, called “Intelligentactile 101″. It’s kind of a spacey folk jam (like a daughter-of-David-Bowie kind of song, perhaps?) It reminds me of Bowie anyway, and that is certainly not to its detriment. It’s one of my favorite songs actually.
“Havoc In Heaven” is a song she apparently is trying to sing like Björk only without so many dynamics, and it’s got a nice oppressive beat. What more could you ask for?
Well you could ask for a hip hop song with nice low frequency booms, and if you did, you’re just as unusual as Jesca Hoop, as that is exactly what she comes back with. I can’t help but dig “Out The Back Door”, particularly since I enjoy some very bassy headphones indeed. I also absolutely adore the haunting piano keys in the background during some segments of this song. Really what I adore is a song where I HAVE little parts like that I can pick out as my favorite.
We then have the quite traditional-sounding jazz song “Love And Love Again”, which I THINK is a cover. I am too lazy to check this. It’s a beautiful waltzy number, and the singing kind of rushes it along, which gives it an interesting effect. Of course that effect could be in my mind since I am working on quite an extended no-sleeping period (I think I haven’t had any sleep between the previous 3 Album Du Jour entries). I think I am just going to close here by saying Jesca Hoop accomplishes a very difficult feat indeed, being an interesting solo artist despite the temptation to conform to any type of style or way of thinking. Her all-over-the-place genre bending is a breath of fresh air above the sea of “independent” artists trying to be the next big thing. The real charm of this album, at least from what I can tell from a single day of listening, is that Jesca really is just doing music she would want to hear. I am not sure it’s like “swimming in a river at night” like ol’ Tom Waits says, since I would consider that act terrifying, perhaps it’s more like just being there at the river at night. Ah I dunno.
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