Friday, October 12, 2007


fate is a funny thing, if you believe in it. chance occurrence, random happenstance, the bizarre and wonderful sense that the universe is colluding in your favor - a belief in fate can give a life direction and purpose. perhaps, if you believe in your destiny strongly enough, it can take you from a strict mormon upbringing to a life as a performer. i don't know if jesca hoop believes in fate, but her fairy tale-like history, as well as the title of her debut lp, kismet, certainly suggests that she does, and is grateful for its blessings.

an anglicization of the turkish word for portion or lot, "kismet" carries meanings that synonyms like "fate" do not, a sense of exoticism and mystery. "fate" and "destiny" have real-world application, but "kismet" is a concept firmly rooted in the preternatural, ethereal realm, a world where genies grant wishes and beggars become sultans, a world where the only limitation is imagination. kismet summons these ideas from the beginning, songs swirling and twisting, two, three, four disparate melodies all seamlessly crammed together. early album highlight "seed of wonder" is grounded in a seesawing cabaret guitar line, upon which hoop adds a m.i.a.-esque chorus and a harmony-heavy bridge, while internet fave "intelligentactile 101" is defined primarily through hoop's athletic voice part, an unexpectedly dynamic bass line, and a cascading harp. kismet is astoundingly diverse, building upon elements from handfuls of genres without ever descending into a mold.

hoop's history is important to understanding her music, borrowing, as it does, from styles ranging from reggae to folk and everything in between. hoop's mormon parents raised her on a steady diet of 60s folk, mainstream radio, and church hymns, though her teenage rebellion led her to artists like tom waits, kate bush, and bjork. fleeing her strict upbringing to california, hoop was offered a job that undoubtedly changed her life: a nanny position for the waits family. impressed by her precociousness and obvious talent, waits gave a demo to kcrw, and the rest, they say, is history. hoop likes to say her style is a natural result of her skewed musical upbringing, and that "when you strip down to raw elements, you actually can conjure up an original viewpoint," and she has nothing if not that.

kismet is both an amalgamation and a creation, a collection of songs so startlingly different that one nearly wonders whether hoop is schizophrenic - there are far too many ideas in these songs for one person to think up alone. though kismet's production does add a great deal to its ingenuity and mystery, its best quirks are hoop's own, whether it is the hushed scatting emanating from the left speaker on "out the back door" or the shape note harmonies on album opener "summertime." more often than not, her songs are illuminated by tangential guitars and ethereal choirs, to name but a few of the tricks up her sleeve, especially on the absolutely stunning "money." "money" is also one of the few tracks on kismet with understandable lyrics; hoop, more often than not, tends towards lyrical non sequiturs, preferring to value the rich sounds of vowels and consonants over any cogent sentences.

though at times disappointingly hit-or-miss, kismet tends to err on the side of brilliance. hoop's "mad music," as she calls it, is a bizarre and wonderful collection, tantalizingly abstracted and complex, imagined by a mind unhindered by conventionality.

jesca hoop - "out the back door"
purchase kismet from a fine local retailer.

jesca hoop w/ the ditty bops - live on kcrw 9/19/07
1. summertime
2. intelligentactile 101
3. enemy
4. money
5. seed of wonder
6. love and love again


L said...

How could no one have commented on this? Unless they didn't hear it. I've heard Summertime from the Critical Eye session & it's gorgeous. I can imagine how lovely these must be. Is there ANY chance that you would re-post these? I'm on bended knee and groveling.

Res said...

You've gotta see Jesca live. I recently saw her open for Matt Pond PA and she was great. Here's a link from their performance at the 9:30 Club in DC.