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Jesca Hoop - Kismet Print E-mail
Friday, 01 February 2008
ImageQuirk strangeness! That’s Jesca Hoop’s Kismet CD in a neat package.

My physicist friend and the James Joyce society may giggle at what is, in effect, a triple pun, but my reason for tossing it out to you is so you’ll feel exactly the way I did when I listened to Kismet for the first time. Mystified, elated, dumbfounded, angry, and some other word I can’t think of right now.

I really believe you should rush out and get a copy of Kismet as soon as possible, throw it onto your listening device of choice and take its fast-moving Wonderland journey from “Summertime” through “Love and Love Again.” Why? When was the last time you felt mystified, elated, dumbfounded, angry, and that other word I can’t think of, because of a CD? Exactly.

Upon repeated listens I was forced to ask myself where all the myst-el-dumb-gry was coming from. The arrangements are lushly beautiful. The vocals -- Hoops sounds like Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser and Sarah McLachlan with a little Siouxsie Sioux spiced in -- are heavenly. The songs are literate, inventive and intelligent. Too intelligent? Could that be it? I was feeling a bit like a monkey watching Shakespeare. I appreciated the physical aspects of the performance, but I didn’t seem to have the facility to understand what it meant.
“Summertime,” the first song on Kismet, opens with a chiming Cocteau Twins-sounding sample and Hoop’s multilayered voice soaring over it. I thought she sounded like the sirens from Oh Brother Where Art Thou, or maybe harmonizing Dixie Chicks, until the bridge when her voice suddenly dropped down into a Susan Tedeschi blues moan that was erotic and enticing. Here was the siren on the rocks. It was at that moment, on the very first listen, that I realized she’d already won me over. And over the course of the next 10 songs she continued to invite me into her world, whisper in my ear, poke me in the eye, and send me on to her next adventure where I’d smile and ask her to do it again.

The arrangement on the second song, “Seed of Wonder,” sounded so Tom Waits I went straight to the booklet to see if it was a song he’d written that I didn’t recognize. No. But there, slipped into the “thank you” section … Tom and Kathleen. Time to search the net. Hmm: Strict Mormon family, left the church to homestead in Northern California, moved again to start a band, and ended up as the Waits’ nanny. Record companies rush to sign her. An incredible journey.

As the songs rushed by, “Enemy,” with its nursery rhyme cadence over a simple acoustic guitar, “Silverscreen,” which would fit easily onto the Amelie soundtrack and strangely seems to meld Kate Bush’s “There Goes a Tenner” and Jamaican toasting, and “Money,” which is Cabaret meets Tom Waits at his angular Swordfishtrombones best, I was enthralled but still listening to the music as if a new note had been added into the scale. H#. It was as if I was reading “Jabberwock” for the first time.

And then came the song “Love is All We Know,” and I understood. There’s a childlike innocence that cuts like a clarion trumpet through Kismet. An innocence that is too pure, too sweet, for my old and jaded heart to follow down into a fairy tale rabbit hole. And even when singing a lyric about hurricane Katrina as sorrowful as “for deep in the heart of my home/my beloved washed away,” there’s something crystalline about it. Something emotionally true and completely devoid of Rock Biz cynicism borne through years of classic band reunions for cash, venues selling eight dollar Cokes, and Aerosmith. It’s the only release I know of (or can imagine) with the word “motherfucker” in a song that I’d recommend for your children.

And the songs continue to enchant until Kismet finally closes with “Love and Love Again” (which was co-written with one of my favorites, David Baerwald). It’s both modern and anachronistic and spins oddly towards its conclusion. Like a big band led by a drunk. All while making you long for spring to arrive, that time in the city when “there’s a spell in the air/and the sailors all drift and wash up in her hair.” Each time I listen to this song a strange black and white movie plays in my head and sadness washes over me because I know it’s the last on the CD. I can play it again but deep inside I wish that something wild and wonderful would happen. Perhaps have another song mysteriously appear, like a grinning Cheshire Cat, for me to listen to while I pore over the lyrics and microscopically examine the sleeve art. Like I did when I was 15, and like I did with this CD.

Kismet is romantic, inspiring, and fills your head and heart with thoughts, reflections and desires. It’s Alice in Wonderland for music freaks. It’s music for geeks to wrap their heads around. It’s the antithesis of the Britney/ Lindsay/Paris culture.

Kismet mystified me because it took awhile for the layers of crusty cynicism to fall away. It elated me because it is sweet and smart music that you can listen to repeatedly. It dumbfounded me because I was caught unawares, never expecting to find something that would lead me down a path where Lewis Carroll’s imagination still roams. Angry because it made me re-examine where my musical soul currently resides. And I thought of that other word, golden. Kismet is a treasure waiting to be discovered.

Quirk strangeness abounds.

A standard CD at 44.1khz. The mix and instrumentation is from the modern ultra clean school (no annoying hiss nor artifacts) and Hoop’s voice is far up front in the mix, where it belongs. There’s a bit of a difference in ambience between the heavily arranged versus primarily acoustic cuts that seems somewhat pronounced, and I bet all of these songs sound wildly, and wonderfully different live. That could merely be a wish.

As I listened to Kismet, Kate Bush’s The Dreaming kept popping into my head, so I put that on and listened for awhile and there seems to be some kind of sonic marriage between the two. If you figure out what it is go to the and tell me, because I don’t have a clue.

There’s a bazillion big name music biz people who have attached themselves to Jesca Hoop and her amazing debut and I hope they don’t fuck everything up in the way that big record industry involvement/attention usually does, and I really hope this record sounds exactly like she wanted it to.

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