The Playlist: Jesca Hoop

Stevie Mackenzie-Smith
Photo of Jesca Hoop playing live with her band

Singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop curates our latest edition of The Playlist, our top 5 recommendations chosen by music taste-makers in the north.

Sometimes a song comes along and wallops you over the head. It’s a pleasurable wallop; the tune muscles into to your brain and you find yourself wanting to listen to over and over, like a lovesick teenager. And it’s the sounds, the songs and the records that we faithfully return to that form the loose theme for this latest playlist from the American-born, Manchester-based, singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop.

There are those albums that stand the test of time; in Jesca’s case it’s Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints that stays strong even after many years. Sometimes, though, it’s a standalone song that pops up and pricks the hairs on your arms. ‘Whispering Light’ from Hoop’s 2014 album Undressed falls into that category: the pared-back duet with folk singer Willy Mason is one of those smoldering songs that you want to share with friends instantly. Tom Waits once said that listening to Jesca Hoop’s music is like “swimming in a lake at night.” It swaddles and chills and is akin to the black depths in that sometimes you’re uncertain about what lies beneath. Is it folk, or is it electronica? In the end, it doesn’t really matter, because her songs always come back to intent. It’s true that music is at its most powerful and evocative when tied up with memories: “I look to those who can deliver a sentiment with clarity. I seek rich communication,” explains Hoop. Here then, is Jesca’s Top 5. Wade in. It’s warmer than you think.

Randy Newman – I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today

Randy Newman’s delivery in this song is a moment that I dream of experiencing in the flesh. He sings it like it’s just you and him. I am continually moving toward this song. Randy Newman knows this language. His performance shows both edges of the sword, with the bitterest sweetness.

Les Mystres Des Voix Bulgare – Ergen Deda

This particular era in the life of this choir has been with me ever since I heard three Bulgarian voices featured on Kate Bush’s song Deeper Understanding. These women have been raised with a totally different view of the potential of the female voice than most women in the west. These timbres are reachable but a real stretch. At least it is for me. This way of singing delights and challenges me at the same time.

The Knife – Still Light

This brother-sister pair carry their genius really close to the surface. I’ve had The Knife on heavy rotation of late; I hear they’re breaking up which is bad news. I love this song in its jarring abbreviation and stark nature. There is a sickness in it that somehow delivers its own cure.

Paul Simon – The Obvious Child

Paul Simon’s 1990 album Rhythm of the Saints is one of my all-time favourites, and it’s one of those records that cannot be contained. There is no way for me to sit still while this song plays out. I could only hope and pray to write and perform with such feeling.

PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love

PJ Harvey is under my skin. There is no sick note that could have possibly excused her from class; she sacked off class altogether and went her own way. She pushes her voice in a way that must surely project her out of her miniature frame. I can’t imagine a singer alive that wouldn’t be able to appreciate her vocal abilities, as rough and ready as they are.

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