‘Memories Are Now’ arrives at an opportune time for Jesca Hoop. On the heels of ‘Love Letter For Fire,’ her lauded 2016 collaboration with Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) and the highest-profile release of her burgeoning career, ‘Memories’ will probably be regarded as an “arrival” of sorts. In truth, it is less arrival than affirmation of Hoop’s already established vocal, lyrical and melodic gifts. What it offers, however, is magnificent proof that those gifts are still growing.
‘Memories Are Now’ is an album of unrest, a mood reflected in the fluctuating tension and sparseness of the music. The songs are apt to take unexpected turns and end unresolved, lending them a peculiar and compelling instability. The lilting, plunking bass of the title track modulates and adjusts tempo as effortlessly as Hoop’s words pour from her mouth, an interesting and off-kilter formulation of instrumental rhythm as subservient to vocals. ‘Cut Connection’ transforms at its halfway point from a soulful and confident demand for love to a discordant, chanting dirge in which Hoop metaphysically urges to “be a part of all things.” It’s jarring, difficult to categorize and boldly spooky.
Hoop’s songwriting prowess and range are on display throughout, with the hazards of technology in the current generation a recurring theme. It’s a tricky one to explore but she does so with grace. On ‘Simon Says,’ she risks pallid millennial nostalgia when she sings, over proudly trashy guitar accompaniment, ‘W-w-w don’t forget life before the Internet / When streets were run by sharks and jets / And children running wild / As we pixelate a generation / Children become application / Pawn consumer pollinators / Buy it buy and buy.” They’re lines that could earn derision but ultimately Hoop’s angle is cautionary without devolving to passé “back in my day” archaism – a fine line to walk.
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On standout ‘Animal Kingdom Chaotic,’ she issues a playful challenge to an emasculated partner as she sings, “Ooooo you know you wanna but the computer says no,” over a quirky, bubbling guitar figure and typewriter percussion. That figure then plunges abruptly into a tonally ambiguous, anxious refrain featuring the lines, “Humankind wiped out by rise in drone / Take back control / Fightin’ killin’ by remote control,” before Hoop menacingly subverts the original come-on with “You know you wanna but the drone.” It’s sex, fractured masculinity, captive free will, surveillance paranoia, dissociated violence, dehumanization and possibly global annihilation in less than four minutes. Hoop makes it look easy.
All of the idiosyncrasies of Hoop’s social commentary remain intact when she gets personal, and she often goes deep on ‘Memories Are Now.’ She sings of yearning and companionship through a lens of independence; occasionally defiant, occasionally insecure, and always aware of inevitable pain. Built into the conceit of ‘Unsaid’ (“Let’s not stay mad / Get mean / Say things we wish could be unsaid”) is an acknowledgment of the pain lovers can inflict upon each other and the knowingly naïve hope of dismissing it. In ‘Pegasi,’ a servile Hoop predicts the end long before it comes with, “I fear you’ll see the day / That I’ve endured all I can take / I won’t bend but I will break under the weight.” When that denouement is reached, there is sadness but relief in knowing it had to be: “You’re of the earth, I’m Pegasi.”
The inward and outward tendencies most powerfully coalesce on closer ‘The Coming,’ a stately evisceration of Hoop’s Mormon upbringing. It is a song that vehemently refuses to be reduced to a few representative lines, so I will not bother trying. Suffice it to say it is a remarkable, harrowing and stunningly intimate piece of art that must be heard. With the eclectic mix of genre-defying songs on ‘Memories Are Now,’ Hoop proves herself a tricky artist to pin down, but there can be no question of her artistry. This is a very rare and self-assured talent, and this is an album that should get her recognized.