With all of the vexation I’ve been feeling these last couple of years regarding Auto-Tune, I’ve forgotten something important: I’ve never had anything against vocal distortion per se. There is absolutely nothing wrong, to me, with the artful use of filters, effects, and so forth. Any number of favored musicians and wonderful songs have employed such tools. In its proper place, Auto-Tune may offer a new range of possibilities for artful vocal distortion as well. (Hint: its over-use by and domination of today’s top 40 does not qualify as “its proper place.”)
I’m not sure whether Jesca Hoop is here using Auto-Tune or some other processing system (probably the latter; perhaps a vocoder), but the main point to my ears is that you can hear, viscerally, the quality of her singing voice (not to mention her songwriting voice), regardless of what she’s doing to process the sound. And this blending of the natural and the man-made appears to be part of the song’s purpose from the very start. The opening riff—brisk and complex and almost thrilling—is played on acoustic guitar and yet set in a hazily processed soundscape. Her voice arrives in a similar brew, full of both spirit and artifice. The song’s dizzy momentum is bewitching, and for all the electronic processing, its human core is both obvious and dazzling. Contrast this to the cynical, sheep-like use of Auto-Tune in the pop world, effecting little more than the addition of a metallic/robotic edge to the vocal that will sound fad-like and pointless once we emerge culturally from our trance-like attachment to it.
Hoop is an adventurous singer/songwriter who was born in Northern California, grew up Mormon, lived as a homesteader in Western wilderness areas, worked for five years as the nanny for Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan’s children (no, really), and picked up and moved to Manchester, England in 2009 at the encouragement of Elbow’s Guy Garvey. “Born To” is a song from her forthcoming album, The House That Jack Built, scheduled for release in June on Bella Union. Hoop was previously featured here in 2007.