Jesca Hoop — Stonechild (July 5, 2019) •• 10/24 — Prague, CZ @ Café V Lese
•• A rocky path through tragedy and joy. The brooding singer has created a knotty and sometimes maddening fifth album that holds some poignant gems. Singer~songwriter Jesca Hoop is a nearly unclassifiable talent whose songs range from outsider folk to indie rock. ... whose artful indie folk often features spacious arrangements, quirky melodies, and razor~sharp harmonies.
•• “There is a very particular kind of thrill when an artist who has mastered the pretty and the clever begins to seriously explore the power of anger, and that is what seems to be happening here. There are some fine, powerful rockers here, but for me the core of the album is the brooding, atmospheric “Deeper Devastation” where it admits, with angry resignation, that “you cannot trust a human being to Do the Right Thing.” No you can’t, but sometimes, somewhere, a human being does something that is not only Right, but Amazing. Maybe that’s better, who can say?” — P. Perkins
Born: April 21, 1975 in Santa Rosa, CA
Location: Manchester, UK
Recording Location: J&J Studios
Styles: Alternative Singer~Songwriter, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Folk, Indie Rock
Album release: July 5, 2019
Record Label: Memphis Industries
01 Free of the Feeling 4:39
02 Shoulder Charge 5:43
03 Old Fear of Father 3:13
04 Footfall to the Path 3:46
05 Death Row 5:00
06 Red White and Black 3:16
07 01 Tear 3:17
08 All Time Low 4:19
09 Outside of Eden 3:09
10 Passage’s End 4:38
11 Time Capsule 3:20
✹ Oliver Baldwin Engineer
✹ Jim Barr Performer
✹ Ali Chant Mixing
✹ Aga Debiec Photography
✹ Jeremy Hogg Performer
✹ Jesca Hoop Composer
✹ Justis Featured Artist
✹ Lucius Featured Artist
✹ Mano McLaughlin Design
✹ Jason Mitchell Mastering
✹ Lucas Oswald Engineer
✹ John Parish Mixing, Performer, Producer
✹ Tom Piper Engineer
✹ Gus Seyffert Engineer
✹ Kate Stables Featured Artist
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson; Score: ★★★★
✹ Following two albums for Sub Pop that included a collaboration with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam (Love Letter for Fire) and the Blake Mills~produced Memories Are Now, Jesca Hoop continues to expand and sharpen her distinctive indie folk on her Memphis Industries debut, Stonechild. It was recorded with longtime PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish, who has also produced albums for the likes of Jenny Hval, Aldous Harding, and This Is the Kit. The latter’s Kate Stables and Rozi Plain are among the guests on Stonechild, a set that puts a premium on chromatic melodies, crisp vocal harmonies, and spare arrangements to the point of sometimes evoking Renaissance vocal music. With lyrics like “Hope lives with darkness, he sleeps in her bed,” the delicate “All Time Low” spotlights Hoop’s articulate vocals and beguiling circular melody by supporting them with unobtrusive plucked guitar punctuated with bent notes. Eventually, what sounds like pedal piano and Hoop’s layered vocal harmonies are the only additional accompaniment to the song’s cautionary allegory. A more dramatic track is lead single “Shoulder Charge,” one of two songs featuring the harmony vocals of Lucius’ Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. Its mix of electric and acoustic instrumentation has a more atmospheric presence leading into a full~throated climax midway through, with rallying lyrics suggesting that empathy is contagious (“Nothing one can go through has not been shared by two”). Opening with a field recording of children at play, another harmonic highlight, “Outside Eden,” is a duet with Kate Stables. The album takes into account the personal politics of the late 2010s, with other songs addressing subjects like patriarchy and misogyny (“Old Fear of the Father”) and white supremacy (“Red White and Black”), all with persistent elegance and gumption. Poised and spacious, warm and inclusive, and highly provoked, Stonechild is another memorable addition to Hoop’s discography.
∠∠ A culmination of life and musical experience, uncompromising in its vision, STONECHILD, the new studio album from Jesca Hoop is a self described “compassion project.”
∠∠ Released on July 5th by Memphis Industries, STONECHILD is Hoop refined and defined. Beautiful, subtle and stark, her fifth album, the follow up to 2017’s highly acclaimed ‘Memories Are Now’, is her best yet.
∠∠ Despite being a long term resident of Manchester, Hoop, has until now, returned to her native California to record. This time round however, “it was” according to Hoop “time to step out of my comfort zone, my safe place”, venturing south to Bristol to team up with producer John Parish (PJ Harvey, Aldous Harding, This is the Kit). Parish’s minimal and purist approach helped clarify Hoop in her ideas and subtly yet effectively realigning her sound. The simplified arrangements draw focus to the fundamental sophistication of the songs.
∠∠ While Hoop’s trademark finger~plucked guitar and ethereal textures remain, the songs and their presentation are ever more direct. Parish “was a gentle collaborator until he killed one of my darlings” Hoop jests. “I’ve never been so brutally edited, and I wasn’t shy about expressing my discomfort at the sight of my work on the cutting room floor. He said, you will forgive me, and in some way I think I actually enjoyed that treatment…being stripped back to the bare basics…albeit painfully”. STONECHILD ventures further into fresh territory with other voices joining the narrative, with Kate Stables (aka This is the Kit) Rozi Plain and Lucius singing the choruses and expanding the sensual depth of the sonic bloom.
∠∠ Embedded in Hoop’s song writing is an inherent unpredictability something she ascribes to being “guided more from instinct than study”. Perhaps more than ever before, STONECHILD sees Hoop lead us through uncharted landscapes across the course of the album. “When I look at the history of my life, I realise I have the breakdown of not only my parents’ marriage but also the breakdown of their parenting to thank for the wild and unexpected course that my life would take. I went looking for a raw and rugged world. the opposite of what I was raised in.”
∠∠ The album title was settled after a trip to a Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, where the STONECHILD is a sad, compelling display of an unborn foetus carried by a woman for over 30 years. “They become a hard ball of bones, a rock. Phonetically, it's a beautiful sounding word — hard and soft — but also, I am taken by the idea of carrying something for a long time, perhaps in secret and then giving it up. I hope I have made an album of substance. There is meat on the bone”.
∠∠ There certainly is; the breath~taking Shoulder Charge, with Lucius contributing backing vocals, speaks of stigmatized culture and the kind of isolation that is formed by shame in a world where were “we are actually and truly the same …even in our differences. To understand all is to forgive all”.
∠∠ Old Fear of Father tackles an exhausted patriarchy and misogyny but if it was perpetuated by females. “I love my boys, more than I love my girl, try not to show it, she’s knows, like I knew”. It’s bare yet dense arrangement reveals a story that is both heart~breaking and shamefully true.
∠∠ On Red White and Black, Hoop chants down white supremacy. “Now the iron cloth that’s cut from the loom bares the black and white stripe of a cotton field rolling~ And the dark mines and flame of redeemers put them right back in the iron cloth and the flag is waving”. As Hoop says “current politics is fucking disturbing. I write from personal perspective, about relationships mostly and I don’t find much music in politics, but as hate crimes increase, women’s rights are being rolled back, and the two nations I call home are building walls… well, the political has become deeply personal.”
∠∠ The folkiest moment on the album, the Kate Stables featuring Outside of Eden, concerns those young ones whose development is now guided by technology and the increasingly intimate relationship between child and device. “Come shut in boys for the girlfriend experience, enter the code and I’ll taste real”.
∠∠ STONECHILD, Hoop says, is intended to “wrap its arms around our human planet spinning in its increasingly precarious wobble”. These rich and curious songs derived from themes of our troubled times speak Hoop’s heart and mind from her empathetic yet tough loving centre point. With writing so fluid, so natural the result is an album where everything is truly meant.
Words by Sam Walton: https://www.loudandquiet.com/reviews/jesca-hoop-stonechild/ ; Score: 8
By Jon Pareles
Jesca Hoop — Stonechild (July 5, 2019) •• 10/24 — Prague, CZ @ Café V Lese