It’s hard to believe The House That Jack Built is Jesca Hoop‘s third proper album. Her last full-length (the excellent Hunting My Dress, reviewed here) came out three years ago, so the artistic growth she demonstrates here is nothing short of astonishing. The mostly acoustic, low-key 2011 EP Snowglobe only hints at the magnificent song craft displayed on The House That Jack Built. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I first heard it and I want to listen to it over and over again.
This is why it’s frustrating to read the snide, insulting, and quite frankly, sexist press on Jesca Hoop. It seems that originality, particularly in female musicians, is interpreted as a liability and not a precious gift. Instead of dwelling on negativity or pointing out why these small-minded, dismissive critics are so wrong however, I’ll tell you why The House That Jack Built should be your new favorite album.
Opening track “Born To” is the most immediately accessible one; this was the reason it’s been chosen as the first single. Hoop flaunts her unusual vocal styles and penchant for exotic instrumentation, but everything feels simultaneously overblown and reined in. I do think it’s a perfect choice for a single, though, as it will provide just enough of a taste of what she’s capable of while still remaining radio-friendly.
The self-examination found in “Pack Animal” might come across as self-absorbed were it not for the genuinely self-deprecatory quality of Hoop’s heartfelt delivery and the sincere whimsy of the music itself.
The swirling, heady brew she’s concocted for “Peacemaker” works on several levels. Sonically, it’s bewitching, and a startling example of how processed vocals can be used for good and not evil. Lyrically, it’s both sensual and sexually forward, such a refreshing change from the coy and clichéd female sexuality that passes for empowerment in today’s musical climate.
If I were in charge of picking a second single, “Hospital (Win Your Love)” would be my choice. (You can download the MP3 for free here.) It’s unique but immediately memorable; the chorus stayed in my head for hours after only one listen. Additionally, it has something clever to say, in this case, a child using illness as a way to get attention.
In the interim since Hunting My Dress, Jesca Hoop grappled with the death of her father, an experience that she partly chronicles in the album’s title track. Hoop has reminded me of Jeff Buckley before, but in this song the resemblance is almost eerie. I intend this as the highest possible compliment; few singer/songwriters have moved me with their raw talent and heartbreakingly honest lyrics since Buckley’s death in 1997. When Hoop sings, “It’s not enough to know you through them” we understand completely; her wordless trills serve as a cri de coeur that reaches beyond the lyric.
“Ode To Banksy” pays tribute to the artist with an intriguing, intoxicating sonic and lyrical palette, but rather than sounding pretentious it sounds modern, moody, and authentic. Like she did in “Four Dreams,” Jesca Hoop tells us of her love of musical nostalgia in “Dig This Record” and the results—complete with heavy drumbeats, oddly bowed strings, and the repeated sounds of a train leaving (or arriving at) a station—are even more powerful.
Perhaps the most powerful song on the album, though, is “D.N.R.” which is so gut wrenching, it’s nearly impossible to listen to without weeping. In the hands of a lesser artist this might come across as cloying, but Hoop’s confessional lyrics, hushed vocals, and finger-picked acoustic guitar place the song in a league with Simon & Garfunkel’s most cherished classics.
It’s hard not to think of Kate Bush when hearing the darkness in “Deeper Devastation,” but again, this is meant as a compliment and not a backhanded one that seeks to call out Jesca Hoop as an imitator, but to praise her as an innovator. Her vocal range is different from Kate Bush’s but the emotional resonance is similar.
The album closes with the gorgeous “When I’m Asleep,” a song rich with the influence of South Asian instrumentation and arresting, chanted vocals.
The House That Jack Built is another glorious step forward in the evolution of an artist. It should vault Jesca Hoop into the same category as female singer/songwriters like Kate Bush, Tori Amos, and Sinéad O’Connor. Although, to be fair, Jesca Hoop doesn’t so much write songs as she creates universes, some small and intimate, others infinite.
08/07: Los Angeles, CA @ Largo
08/08: San Diego, CA @ Anthology
08/09: Costa Mesa, CA @ Detroit Bar
08/10: Long Beach, CA @ Fingerprints (Record Store Performance)
08/11: Ventura, CA @ Zoey’s
08/12: Santa Cruz, CA @ Crepe Place
08/13: Oakland, CA @ Yoshi’s
08/14: Nevada City, CA @ Haven Underground
08/16: Portland, OR @ Alberta Rose Theatre
08/17: Seattle, WA @ Empty Sea Studios
08/18: Eugene, OR @ Sam Bounds Garage