Women with guitars are nearly as common as men with guitars these days; not to mention women with harps, pianos and samplers. Finding a niche is no easy task. Up-and-coming L.A. singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop is doing so with a distinctive talent for darkly seductive, genre-bending songs that dabble in everything from folk and pop to dub and cabaret.
Her winsome but diffuse 90-minute set Wednesday at the Troubadour suggested that she could benefit from greater control if she hopes to achieve the command of the female musician she most clearly brings to mind, Regina Spektor.
Hoop charmed the audience with her likably offbeat personality as she dispensed candid asides and holiday cookies from a stage she had decorated with a small Christmas tree. Her fans remained rapt during an often hushed set that highlighted songs from her debut, "Kismet," which came out in September.
This eclectic mash-up of dreamy ballads and moody, effects-laden pop songs has earned Hoop critical acclaim and growing buzz, including kudos from Tom Waits, for whom she once worked as a nanny. Nic Harcourt, host of "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on KCRW-FM (89.9), named "Kismet" the best album of 2007.
It's easy to see why Hoop has garnered such glowing praise. She can evoke extraordinary moods with little more than her gorgeous voice, as she did on the bruised, harmony-laced ballad "Enemy," and "Love and Love Again," for which she was backed only by xylophone and audience members' finger snaps. But delivered all together, her ballads began to lack distinction, bringing to mind Ophelia's lovely but opaque poetics in "Hamlet."
Things picked up when Hoop was backed by her seven-piece band for songs such as the cute electro-pop number "Intelligentactile 101" and the sexy, show tune-flavored "Money." But Hoop undermined the power of her own performance with an encore of acoustic songs that derailed the night's momentum and could not drown out the sound of two female audience members drunkenly chattering in the back.
Hoop obviously has an aptitude for the dense, disquieting indie-pop opus. With a little more experience, she will hopefully gain the equally important knowledge of when to edit and when to throw away restraint and bring her gift into even greater focus.