September 23, 2007

"Hello To My Beautiful Mind": Jesca Hoop - Kismet

The kids must’ve had a grand time whenever Tom Waits and the wife went out for the night, given that their nanny was Jesca Hoop. If her nurturing attributes are at all reflected on her debut release, Kismet, it’s not difficult to imagine her as a kooky Mary Poppins with a madcap imagination, a provocative voice, and a fondness for things that go boom. That’s a compliment, by the way.

Peculiar rhythms, picturesque lyrics, and resonant melodies accentuate this album, making it a work of distinguished beauty.

Some songs ricochet in syncopated sound, their often-eccentric architecture lending to the album’s overall intrigue. On “Seed Of Wonder,” for instance, Police drummer Stewart Copeland assembles a patchwork of percussion around Hoop’s sinewy vocal. As well, “Out The Back Door,” with its throbbing beat and Hoop’s cocksure delivery, could incite a block party. “All the brick houses gonna shake da rump,” she playfully sings, “And the swingers gonna swing it some more.”

The lyrics, which often suggest visual and tactile sensations, play a central role in the sound and shape of this album. Such is the case with “Summertime,” on which Hoop depicts a pastoral landscape to underscore an anticipated moment of passion: “Bring a soft blanket baby/Lay it down for me/And roll me daddy daddy/Roll me in the wheat.” The consonance of the words creates an almost poetic expression, giving the lyrics a momentum within the framework of the song.

In contrast to the tracks that emphasize curious rhythms and funky percussion, some songs underscore utterly enchanting melodies, striking in their simplicity, piercing in their emotional impact. Perhaps the finest example of this sort is “Love And Love Again,” a piano-laden song so richly melodic it could pass for a Richard Rodgers composition. Adding to its charm, Hoop’s singing sounds wistful and elegant as it rises and falls in relation to the music’s fluctuating tones.

A stunning performance, arguably the album’s best, comes on “Love Is All We Have,” homage to the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina. The song sways with a plaintive acoustic guitar and Hoop’s breathtaking vocal. Midway through the somber ballad, a marching drum commences, injecting a poignant urgency to the lyrics, “Love me now, love is all we have.”

Kismet conveys an aesthetic quality, one that balances the roles of rhythm and melody with the imaginative writing of lyric imagery. While each song harbors its own idiosyncrasies and character, the album as a whole represents a remarkable artistic achievement.