First Listen: Jesca Hoop, 'Memories Are Now'

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Jesca Hoop's new album,<em> Memories Are Now</em>, comes out February 10.

Jesca Hoop first attracted national attention in the early '00s, when her unusual backstory — the daughter of musical Mormons, she'd served a long stint as nanny to Tom Waits' kids — helped fuel critics' interest in songs that always seemed to be coming at you sideways. Albums like Hunting My Dress and The House That Jack Built, both of which hold up incredibly well, left Hoop constantly on the verge of a major breakthrough that never quite materialized.

Last year, though, she got a big lift in the form of Love Letter For Fire, an album-length collaboration with Iron And Wine's Sam Beam. In addition to reaching a new audience — and, in the process, finding her a new label home — that record found ways to highlight Hoop's idiosyncratic songwriting voice, as well as her gift for distinct phrasing. She keeps Love Letter For Fire's momentum alive with Memories Are Now, a nine-song collection that further showcases Hoop's enviable capacity to surprise.

Take the voices she brings to Memories Are Now's title track: The song could just as easily be the work of a sister act like Lily & Madeleine, Joseph or First Aid Kit — the kind of group where impeccable voices weave in and out, complementing each other with improbable precision — but it's just a showcase for Hoop, whose voice sounds alternately soaring, breathy, wearily assertive and, in the backing vocals, downright heavenly. (Later, at moments in "Simon Says," her layered voices conjure images of a salty/sweet country duo.) In both content and construction, Jesca Hoop's songs practically burst with ideas: They're as strange and smart and heartfelt as they are gorgeous, and that's saying something.

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