Kismet is a fitting title for singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop’s debut album. The song “Seed of Wonder,” which fell into the hands of an influential L.A. radio tastemaker by way of Hoop’s employer and mentor Tom Waits (she worked as his kids’ nanny for a spell), is a kaleidoscopic assemblage of bridges and verses that overlap and repeat, recounting Hoop’s creative journey from “stagnant well,” in which spiders fantastically strummed their webs and called her to join them, to prosperous “tapped spring.” The song, however, comes too early in the album; it’s the kind of paramount burst that would play more satisfying as a climactic piece rather than a wellspring for what follows (like the equally powerful but more modestly arranged “Enemy” and “Love is All We Have,” an ode to New Orleans that coasts on the sounds of a creaking boat and a rousing melody of “Level me now/Love is all we have”).
Before meeting Waits, Hoop grew up in a strict Mormon home where MTV was banned and singing murder ballads and church hymns in four-part harmony was the norm, the effect of which can be heard in the bundles of vocal overdubs throughout Kismet. Hoop’s lyrics unravel like free verse, and her voice shifts from alpine almost-yodeling to a deeper, sultry register (often all in the same song), so it’s no surprise to learn that she counts the likes of Kate Bush and Björk as influences. “Silverscreen” finds the singer in a sort of film screening purgatory where home movies are shown (“Gates of heaven/There is me on the silverscreen/I hope they did good editing”), while “Money” addresses the challenge of maintaining artistic integrity in the face of “cheddar” (“Where go the misfits on the fringe/When the edges are all rounded out?”). Despite signing with a major label, Hoop has still managed to record an offbeat yet accessible album filled with carnivalesque flourishes, and it seems her inner freak has been anything but dulled.