Lisa Hoppe's YSOP - "Faking An Imperfect Utopia" (wismART, 2023)

    There is a reverent, meditative quality which imbues the entirety of "Faking An Imperfect Utopia", the latest offering from bassist, singer and composer, Lisa Hoppe. Hoppe leads her ensemble YSOP here on its maiden voyage. The group features the broad and diverse talents of Gaya Feldheim-Schorr on lead vocals and processing, Laura Schuler on violin, Julia Rüffert on trombone and Danielle Friedman on piano. Each instrumentalist also sings which allows for a wealth of orchestral configurations that Hoppe arranges with an imaginative and fluid touch. Richly emotional, mournful at times and soaring at others, "Faking An Imperfect Utopia" is a raw presentation showcasing the command of Hoppe's brilliant and fearless musical voice.

   With its signature blend of humor and candor, the group bares a similar aesthetic to one of Hoppe's prior projects named "Third Reality". I had the privilege to see that group perform live here in NYC numerous times and I'm overjoyed that Hoppe retains her trademarked ability to touch and move spirits with her music. While I have heard projects before which evoked similar impressions (namely "River Song" from Los Angeles or the soundtracks of Jon Brion), Hoppe is one of the only individuals in my age group and greater musical circle who can achieve this while also demonstrating an acumen for seriously disciplined compositional devices. The harmony, counterpoint and execution of ideas here is on a par with the work of Ravel, Debussy, Franck and other notable practitioners of older traditions and skills. Listening to this set never felt like it was strictly an homage to those older styles of writing though. These qualities merely represent one part of Hoppe's extended palette of options and craft.

 There is great care and attention given to each of the pieces which is obvious from start to finish. The set begins with a highlight for me entitled "The World Is Not Gonna to Get Back to You (Today)". A soulful ballad featuring a gorgeous, hypnotic melody that serves a a warmly embracing introduction. Elsewhere, things take a cheeky turn with the flat, monotonous chanting on "Logical Solution" and "Hugs for Free" which felt like the theme music to a newly discovered Charlie Chaplin film. Hoppe's sense of humor is delicately woven into all of her compositions which also express themselves through adventurous, unpredictable routes in a disciplined but open approach. This combined with the tone and attitude of the collection felt therapeutic and very human without necessarily being as heavy as that description would sound. 

    There's also a theme of resilience in the face of defeat, disappointment and trying times. Consider "Bienvenue, Les Affligeants". Loosely translated from French, the title snidely greets distress like an unpleasant houseguest that Hoppe would still offer a cup of tea. Musically, this is also reflected in the Weill-esque, vaguely maudlin pathos of that arrangement featuring lush, melancholic piano from Friedman. That same nuanced dialogue between retrospection and whimsy is also mined on "Sadness Is Just Another Color", which boasts one of the album's most ambitious and episodic song structures as well as an extended, lightly angular exploration on multi-colored cotton candy before returning to its initially romantic homebase. 
    This is not to say that things don't occasionally arrive and pass while staying resigned to a thoroughly mournful sound. I'm thinking here especially of the folky "Meachorey Einey" which is an original piece inspired by a German poem. Also in this vein is the languid, epic "Chronos and Kairos". When I mentioned this "humanity" in Hoppe's concepts, this is precisely what I meant. Taken as a whole, "Faking An Imperfect Utopia" is complex in the way a person is complex. Sad and funny. Comforting and frightening. A web of contradiction and pathos. All in equal measure. Prepare to be moved by this creation. It's one of the most solemn, well- curated and powerful sets of music I've heard in a long while. Sample below.