Jesca Hoop has never shied away from plunging to the bottom of her heart through her songwriting, and on Memories Are Now, she continues to tackle her demons head on. The difference between this record and the candidness of her previous releases (including debut Hunting My Dress, sophomore Kismet, and most recently original solo release, 2012’s The House That Jack Built) is that Hoop became detached to reach this particular truth.
The multi-instrumentalist purposefully removed herself from familiar features to achieve the sound and message of Memories Are Now. Notably stepping away from her mainstay recording space, Tony Berg’s Zeitgeist Studios in Long Island City, she temporarily relocated to California to work at NRG Studios with producer Blake Mills. Though best known for his work with Alabama Shakes, Bills has also worked with a series of guitar-based solo artists who experiment with sound to create a raw and sometimes broken landscape – including Laura Marling for her promising upcoming album, Semper Femina.
We may have to wait a few more months to hear the fruits of that particular labour, but if Mills’ work with Hoop is anything to go by, the producer is able to cultivate the music made at NRG with great skill. Memories Are Now doesn’t have the harsh edge of Hunting My Dress nor the electronic fuzz of The House That Jack Built, but its production harnesses Hoop’s extraordinary vocal range and allows her to more deeply explore the earthly chant of “When I’m Asleep” without sounding gimmicky or, y’know, mad.
The separation from Berg may have worked to Hoop’s advantage, but with her background already well documented through her previous work, it’s still unsurprising that abandonment and loss feature heavily in the lyricism of Memories Are Now. Hoop says the record is as much about fighting back as it is realising the futility of the fight, which is largely representative of what the Manchester based, Santa Rosa born artist does best. While there are recurring themes of personal, romantic and platonic loss, the most poignant references are biblical: “Songs of Old” and “The Coming” - which Jesca describes as “twins” on the album – battle evangelism on familiar ground, and have the songwriter commenting that she refuses to blame her Mormon parents for “believing in a story, like it was the Bible, when it was just a tale made tall,” but that she equally will not believe that her friends are going to hell as non-believers. Although her lyrics are beautifully poetic, Hoop paints a clear yet beautiful picture of confusion as an anti-establishment believer with atheist sympathies.
The final string to Memories Are Now’s bow is a change of record label, to Seattle’s Sub Pop Records. When you look at Hoop’s commercial and critical success to date it’s somewhat surprising that it took so long for a reputable label to sign her, but it seems it was last year’s duet project Love Letter For Fire with Sam Beam of Iron & Wine that rectified the issue. Now also releasing her solo work through Sub Pop, Memories Are Now doesn’t just represent a career advance for Hoop: it’s an opportunity to reach a much larger audience, too.
Memories Are Now doesn’t take the same leaps and bounds forward as other albums by Jesca Hoop, but it overcomes hurdles and former boundaries to present her attitude towards music very well. This is another heart-warming, empowering and intimate session from one of the world’s greatest artists.
Release: 10th February 2017, Sub Pop Records