This evening I got to witness something rather breathtakingly magical in the tiny (yet mightily impressive) form of Ms Jesca Hoop – a California born singer-songwriter residing in drizzy Manchester after being lured here by the touring manager of Elbow. The performance is being filmed at the old Granada for Low Four Studio, and before anyone can shout action, the intimate audience with their shuffling feet and excitable whispers goes pin-drop quiet. Jesca humbly waits with an air of complete professionalism before looking to the guests on the balcony, gesturing for them to smile, and mentions how the silence is making her nervous.
Accompanied by three other incredibly proficient musicians, Jesca’s voice is so crystal-clear that she breezes effortlessly through octaves with the elegance of a calling songbird. She seems so petite against her bulky electric finger-picked guitar, well-coiffed hair and full-length blue mod suit; her voice resonates in an almost out-of-body way – beautiful, esoteric and haunting. The vocal harmony work shared with her bassist is nothing less than hypnotic and the atmosphere begins to shift taking on the feel of a contemporary Celtic mass. This starts to make a little more sense when you consider her own upbringing – raised by traditional Mormon parents, her family would teach her intricate four-part harmonies which she has evidently excels in. Later in life she would also become nanny to (who else but) Tom Waits’ children, with Waits deeply encouraging her to pursue her ambitions and eventually securing her a music publisher.
Jesca’s work seems so unassuming and uncontaminated that at times it seems as though you aren’t so much watching a band rather an avant-garde performance piece. It’s really hard to define this as any standout genre, occasionally evoking the spirit of an unashamedly folky dirt-track commune (think Malvina Reynolds’ Little Boxes) – then snapping into strange and ethereal experimental jazz.
This is a very compatible and sensitive ensemble- their combined efforts practically bewitching the audience and pulling us into a fragile, swirling mist of dreamy landscapes. At times the rhythm section intentionally gallops and slows, with the drummer tentatively feeling his way through Jesca’s steering vocals. Collectively the musicians are remarkably tight and there are no obvious egos competing for fancy titles, leads or OTT drum solos.
It is without question that Hoop is a unique and extraordinarily talented songwriter. She is experimental and she is niche, and niche is good. You get the distinct impression that she couldn’t give a damn about where she fits in the fickle music industry and is more at home circumnavigating the periphery. This was an absolutely spellbinding show, and I genuinely wish a bright and golden future for Ms Hoop and her comrades.
Her new album, ‘Memories are Now,’ is available now on SubPop Records.