It can sometimes be a curse for an artist if their style and direction aren’t easily pinned down to one genre, but Jesca Hoop is triumphantly and unapologetically an artistic mutt. On Feb.10, the U.S. singer-songwriter released her fifth album, “Memories Are Now.” The album is Hoop’s first solo work since 2012’s “The House That Jack Built.”
Her first song, the titular “Memories Are Now,” begins slowly, with rhythmic strumming on an electric guitar. In the background, Hoop adds icy vocals. The sound pulls you in almost immediately and builds until Hoop belts out the album’s title and begins speak-singing the song. The pace is steady throughout, and the song as a whole is tightly organized. Hoop’s lyrics are fearless, sounding like they are addressed to a former love: “I can stand up tall/Look you in the eye/You haven’t broken me yet/You don’t scare me to death.”
This is her first new solo work in five years, so it isn’t a stretch to see this as her glorious return. She is back and unafraid, but, as best said in her own words on the title track, “I’m coming through/No matter what you say.”
What makes this album so wonderful is that Hoop throws curveball after curveball. She transitions with ease from the title track to “The Lost Sky,” a soft acoustic guitar-backed song. In this second song, it is clear she is musing about some sort of past loss, maybe referencing a failed relationship or maybe just general mistakes.
This album can be looked at as a presentation of who Hoop is now: a mix of past and present mistakes, and relationships with a fervent drive to keep moving forward. The album feels like a coherent mix of chaos — with vocals and instrumentation that range from soft to rough.
The third and fourth songs on the album are an excellent encapsulation of this. So much happens in the span of two songs, and yet Hoop is in control. “Animal Kingdom Chaotic” begins like an average indie song: a honeyed strumming of an acoustic guitar starts things off before light, playful drumming enters. The song gradually ends with abrasively backed electronica which lasts only for a few seconds before the positive and slow drawl of “Simon Says” begins.
Hoop plays and sings softly and wistfully, taking the listener back in time and evoking the freedom of childhood summers spent playing in fields without a care in the world. Appropriately, with the carefree nature of a child, she sings “I like what I like” repeatedly.
Maybe that’s the message of the album, and what Hoop wants her listeners to think of her: that, like the album’s mixed messages, she is complex, erratic and cognizant of her past mistakes but presently liberated from them. This album makes you pause and listen, like a tempest drawing you in. From a constantly fluctuating artist with a turbulent creativity, we should expect no less.