Jesca Hoop

“The Lost Sky” – Jesca Hoop

Itchy and curious, “The Lost Sky” grabs my ear in a “where is this going?” kind of way, as the song’s opening verses unfold over minimal, agitated acoustic guitar work and a precise, intermittent bass line. But as the song proceeds I slowly get the idea that where the song is going is where it already is: the ear has to adjust to its edgy open-endedness, its determined lack of solid ground. Symbolic of its restless core is what happens at the end of the (not very chorus-like) chorus (1:23-1:26). Listen first to how the melody has slowed down and seems at last to move towards resolution; and then, nope, it turns out that the note the ear is waiting for (1:23-1:26) is not an ending but a beginning: the resolving note starts the next verse and off we go again.

Other things begin to anchor me as I listen, starting first and foremost with Hoop’s harmonies, which kick in at 1:12 on the song’s incisive question “Why would you say those words to me if you could not follow through?” The narrator is a brokenhearted lover, and as the song plucks along my heart warms with the understanding that it only ever takes a talented songwriter to render the familiar unfamiliar. Here we get propulsive but diligent music, evocative lyrics, and then, yes, those increasingly startling and satisfying harmonies (where she takes it at 2:31 caused me just about to gasp), and there I am, embraced yet again, with gratitude, by the potency of song. It’s a nice place to be right about now.

Born in California, singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop moved to Manchester (UK) in 2010. “The Lost Sky” is from her forthcoming album, Memories Are Now, coming out in February on Sub Pop Records. Here is someone who apparently cycles through Fingertips in five-year loops; Hoop was previously featured in 2007 and 2012.

MP3 via Colorado Public Radio.

The William Shakes

“The Fault” – The William Shakes

At once comfortable and intriguing, “The Fault” is better than it has any right to be, and certainly better than you are imagining it could be, based on this: The William Shakes is a project established to create indie rock songs from “de-contextualized” Shakespearean dialogue. Yeah, I know. But trust me, this works amazingly well.

The mastermind here is Boston area musician Mark McGettrick. According to press material, McGettrick was inspired by David Bowie’s famous “cut-up” methodology for writing lyrics, and for whatever reason thought to apply it to the Bard. McGettrick selects a character from a Shakespeare play, isolates that character’s lines, randomly puts them back together, and then “curates” them into song lyrics. “The Fault” is based on lines spoken by the character Cassius in Julius Caesar, who among other things uttered the famous “The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars/But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” The project has yielded a four-song EP, entitled How Goes The Night?, which is coming out in February.

Back to the song itself, which is almost hypnotically powerful–all forward motion and economical guitar accents, with a cascading melody often magnetized around one central note. McGettrick has an incisive, slightly wavery voice that wanders DIY-ishly off pitch in a fetching way that somehow makes the words all the more absorbing. And what words!; and how they shine a shrewd light on what song lyrics have to do and what they don’t have to do in service of convincing music. Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter has built-in scannability (e.g., “So well as by reflection, I your glass”), his vocabulary relentless vigor; these two factors help to generate a song with ineffable backbone. As a long-time fan of song lyrics as sound versus sense, I am not bothered if I do not understand what a singer is singing or what the words actually mean. In fact, I believe that a song’s overall meaning is sometimes clearer on an abstract and intuitive level than a concrete and explainable one. Listen to “The Fault” and maybe you’ll hear what I’m talking about.

McGettrick composed and produced all songs on the EP himself, and played guitar, bass, and percussion as well. A handful of other musicians contributed, from Boston and beyond. McGettrick has been around the Boston music scene for a number of years but this appears to be his first solo recording.


“The Lives of Elevators” – Orouni

What a fluid and charming piece of work this one is, buoyed by an effortless sense of melody and the fragile but authoritative voice of the eponymous Orouni. A Parisian singer/songwriter whose self-proclaimed influences include the likes of Leonard Cohen and The Kinks, Orouni makes carefully composed songs in which the notes seem handcrafted, one by one, then sung with an ongoing aura of surprise and assurance. The chord change at 0:56, gentle and resolute, is emblematic of the song’s pervading ambience of precipitant redesign, which culminates at 2:37 with a trumpet solo. It is both unexpected and ideal.

“The Lives of Elevators” is a live performance, from a recently folded-up French music site called Findspire, the offerings of which remain available on YouTube. Watch the video and be lulled by the easy-going flow, as we check in visually with each musician, so locked into the groove that they somehow seem to be playing one thing but listening to another. I mean that as a compliment, even if that doesn’t sound like one.

Orouni has recorded three albums to date, which you can listen to and purchase via Bandcamp. I recommend a visit there. “The Lives of Elevators” is based on a 2008 New Yorker article of the same name, written by Nick Paumgarten, which itself is worth reading. The song is a new one, which might appear on the next Orouni album, which might be released this year. Plans are yet unclear. Thanks to Orouni for the MP3.


So this is not really a holiday playlist, because I, like a lot of people I know, don’t feel especially festive this year. But I snuck a couple of seasonal songs in anyway, both of which I appreciate for their arrangements, however vastly different they are. This is in fact a list about differences: beautiful and jarring, old and new, angry and gentle, it’s all here. Some things you might want to know: Vegas was a one-off effort by Terry Hall (the Specials) and Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) that sank commercially but soared artistically (thanks to George from Between Two Islands for this one); Sad13 is Sadie Dupuis, front woman for the band Speedy Ortiz and “<2" (say "Less Than Two") is from her first solo album; "Lily" is one of only a handful of stand-alone older songs Kate Bush performed at her now-legendary concerts in London in 2014, and I wasn't there but I wish I had been, and I'm buying the new album, and she's amazing; yes the new Bon Iver is pretty outré but oddly compelling (and note the song title is supposed to have two symbols after it but they are not translating properly here in WordPress so I left them out); yes this is the "clean" version of "We the People..." but it seemed a reasonable gesture given that by and large these playlists are safe for work and young children--I encourage you on your own to check out the whole album, in its explicit form; and yes I had just featured Leonard Cohen two playlists ago so the rules prohibited a direct homage to the great man but I really like what Christina Rosenvinge has done with "Famous Blue Raincoat," and adore its Spanish title, "Impermeable Azul," and like Christina Rosenvinge in any case so here you are. And yet, that said, 2016 has come to an end and I did in fact repeat one artist this year. So much for rules. Anyone notice?

Full playlist below the widget.

“Open Your Eyes” – The Lords of the New Church (The Lords of the New Church, 1982)
“Walk Into the Wind” – Vegas (Vegas, 1992)
“<2” - Sad13 (Slugger, 2016)
“Alchemy” – Richard Lloyd (Alchemy, 1979)
“Lily” – Kate Bush (The Red Shoes, 1993)
“I’m Gonna Git Ya” – Betty Harris (single, 1967)
“10 d E A T h b R E a s T” – Bon Iver (22, A Million, 2016)
“Evil Urges” – My Morning Jacket (Evil Urges, 2005)
“Talk of the Town” – The Pretenders (Pretenders II, 1980)
“The Catastrophe and the Cure” – Explosions in the Sky (All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, 2006)
“Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” – Karla Bonoff (Karla Bonoff, 1977)
“We The People…” – A Tribe Called Quest (We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, 2016)
“Philadelphia” – Magazine (The Correct Use of Soap, 1980)
“L’estasi dell’oro” – Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Original Motion Picture     Soundtrack, 1966)
“We Three Kings” – The Roches (We Three Kings, 1990)
“Run” – Amy MacDonald (This Is The Life, 2007)
“God’s Children” – The Kinks (Percy, 1971)
“Strange Things Happening Every Day” – Sister Rosetta Tharpe (single, 1945)
“Lt. Kijé: Troika” – Caliban Quartet of Bassoons (Caliban Does Christmas, 2005)
“Impermeable Azul” – Christina Rosenvinge (According to Leonard Cohen, 2012)

Pop and Obachan

“I Bet High” – Pop & Obachan

At once woozy and perky, “I Bet High” presents us with a brief but much-needed shot of good spirit and motion to counter the tar pit of despair many of us have fallen into since 11/9. But blink and you’ll miss this one: no sooner does the listener feel fully embraced by the chunky, freewheeling vibe then the song plunks to a close.

So while I like this a lot there is no hiding the fact that “I Bet High” is an odd song, with an ad hoc feeling to both structure and texture. The tinkly electric guitar sounds like some kind of far-away-in-time instrument; Emma Tringali sings with a tone mixing come-hither-ness and a playful shove, awash in reverb; and the entire song bounces along without much of a rudder—the verses melt into a charming if woolly indistinctness, while the chorus glides through our awareness before we even realize that’s what we just heard. In the end, the song’s playful, “look-at-what-I-just-found” sensibility is central to its appeal. Put it on repeat and enjoy.

Pop & Obachan is a studio duo and a six-piece live band, led by Tringali and Jake Smisloff and based in upstate New York. “I Bet High” is a track from their debut album, entitled Misc. Excellence, which was recorded in their apartment on a tape deck and released last month. You can listen to the whole thing and buy it via Bandcamp. Thanks to the band for the MP3.