Jul 05, 2019 Web Exclusive
These days, the fate of the world seems to depend on how much we care about each other. Gun violence, abortion rights, mental health awareness—everything comes back to whether or not we can collectively pause and listen. Back in 2017, versatile balladeer Jesca Hoop emerged reborn from her hiatus, like a butterfly that bursts free from its chrysalis; instead of brooding spider-like over gothic fantasies, Memories Are Now unravelled as a modern folk story about finding truth, spirit, and love in these fractured and digitized times. Now that Hoop has found her wings, she takes flight on Stonechild, a stoic journey to shed light on the heavy burdens that we lock within ourselves. Time and again, she shows us ever so gently what we all need to hear—the strands that isolate us can also connect us together.
Hoop says she shifted out of her “comfort zone” to record in Manchester with a new producer and so Stonechild feels like another new frontier, a countryside cloaked in a delicate frost. The muted snowfall of plucked guitars and synths conjures memories of Juana Molina, especially in the opener “Free of the Feeling”; elsewhere, the gypsy’s chiaroscuro in “Foot Fall to the Path” invokes riddles and rituals that echo Dead Can Dance. Memories Are Now approached this level of wintery enchantment, but would detour back to the golden earth to warm our bones; Stonechild, on the other hand, sustains the snowfall.
Once we settle into the eldritch chill, though, we find the spark of empathy under the snow. Hoop speaks to the burdens that we bear silently—like in “Old Fear of Father,” a haunting tale about how mothers continue the cycle of patriarchy by mistrusting their own daughters: “I love my boys, more than I love my girl/try not to show it, she knows.” In the His Name Is Alive-like shimmer of “Shoulder Charge,” Hoop extends a hymn and a hand to those lost under their own fog: “nothing one can go through/has not been shared by two.” And in the gentlest (yet most heart-rending) corner of the album, “01 Tear” and “All Time Low,” both share apocryphal tales of solitary lives under duress. “Show me how to win at solitaire,” the protagonist of the former asks an old man, with an arrow and a golden apple in hand; in the next verse, she asks, “Show me how to live through tomorrow.”
In the end, Hoop offers her own answer: the only way to move on in the present is to slough off the anchors of the past. “Throw the baby out with the bath,” goes the chorus in the elegant “Death Row”; the sea-dwelling widow in “Passages End” casts her newborn into the ocean. The pages of Stonechild sometimes read like wives’ tales and folklore, but the morals found within should resonate with any modern wanderer. And, after all, Hoop exemplifies her own advice: she’s ascended yet again from the old shadows, with an ear to the ground and eyes scanning ever upward. (www.jescahoop.com)
Author rating: 8/10