Listen to this track by Iron & Wine lead Sam Beam and experimental pop singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop. It’s “Valley Clouds”, a track as taken off of their joint album Love Letter For Fire. That album was released just this past April, making many a music fan’s eyes widen by the possibilities initially, and by now how well Beam and Hoop’s voices intertwine to create something new out of a well-traveled approach to the making of pop music of a certain vintage and spirit.
The intent of the album was to take an established form, the duet, and to import a modern take on it as well as create a songwriting partnership out of that process. This album was the result, with this song being a lead single to establish its tone, which is a sort of quietly intense atmosphere of a campfire singalong.
As one might expect, this record of duets centers around the subject of love. But, what it also explores something that this established form has always intended, and that is how writing songs for two voices expands thematic possibilities, creates tension, and adds a sophisticated emotional dynamic that can only exist when two points of view are expressed in the same song.
Listen to this track from transplanted-to-Britain American singer-songwriter and experimental popist Jesca Hoop. It’s “The Kingdom”, the second track off of her 2009 full-length record Hunting My Dress.
Jesca Hoop had contacts with the music world even before she herself started her professional recording career, being the daughter of folk-singing Mormons in Northern California, where she learned her craft for close harmony. Later on, she served five years as Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan’s nanny, of all things.
Subsequently after Waits championed her, she appeared as an opening act for artists as diverse as Matt Pond PA, Mark Knopfler, Eels, and The Polyphonic Spree. She’s sung back-up for Peter Gabriel. After having opened for Elbow, Hoop has moved to Manchester on the invitation of Elbow singer Guy Garvey.
She’s also worked on soundtracks, working up songs for the film Riding The Bus With My Sister, with soundtrack composer and drummer Stewart Copeland, who then appeared on her song, “Seed of Wonder“, which appears on her 2007 debut album Kismet.
But, Hoop has a singular voice of her own besides all of the artists with whom she’s had contact, with this song standing out for me as an example of her ability to balance weighty moods with light as air music. Read more