“The House that Jack Built” – Jesca Hoop

4 stars (out of 5)

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Product DetailsThis is Jesca Hoop’s third album and continues much in the same vein as the first two. If you’re not familiar with her, Hoop is an eccentric American living in Manchester (odd switch some might say) and sings folk pop of the kind that was popular in the late nineties and now isn’t so much. She has a helluva voice, a big powerful and dark instrument and sometimes, less so on this collection, sings with an Irish accent. She also incorporates hip hop, trip hop, blues, electronics and jazz, but essentially, specifically, it’s folk pop. It’s also what you might call densely textured sonically.

When I listen to records like this sometimes all I can hear is the production. Her previous album ‘Hunting My Dress’ contained some very strong tracks but the loud and very clean production, even when  trying to sound grubby, was off-putting and it lacked any real authenticity or identity and  betrayed  Hoop’s talents. I could imagine some of the songs being sung by artists like Imogen Heap or Nerina Pallot, other female artists who fall into the category of eccentric singer songwriter but who can veer off into slightly whacky/whimsical territory. The ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ production remains but Hoop has used to her advantage here, she’s learned how to shade and to create a level of intimacy not as apparent in her earlier work. This album however successfully combines real depth and great swathes of musical warmth and eccentricity with enormously impressive, hooky pop writing. And this is also an album that deals with Hoop’s father’s death helping give the album more form and consistency, and there really isn’t a weak track here.

Peacemaker’ is incredible; Indian musical influences and intensively erotic lyrically (‘milk in your  baby, swords enraged, fuck me babe’) and also in structure; the way the melody slips and slides in and out of corners and crevices is astonishing. ‘Hospital (Win Your Love)‘ is a perfectly structured pop song and at this point I’m in awe of these women’s writing abilities. Infuriatingly catchy ‘Ode to Banksy’ (yes, the artist) is like taking a musical jaunt down the Kings Road circa 1968 with Jesca maybe taking the piss out of the artist’s reclusive and cool (still?) image; ‘You’re so provocative, so underground’. 60’s themes and lingo continues with the stroppy ‘Dig This Record’ and Hoop excels in the multi part song; first verse, second verse, pre chorus, chorus, second verse, second chorus, middle eight, second middle eight and repeat.

The standout song for many, however, will be the title track ‘The House That Jack Built’, explicitly about the death of Hoop’s dad. Musically bare but still a full sound with Hoop recounting her father’s possessions many of which she has no previous knowledge of, a bit like aspects of her father. It’s very beautiful and very sad. My preferred track that directly references her dad though is the darker ‘D.N.R’ and folk aspects take over the last quarter of the album with a female choir demanding ‘Go Back To Sleep!’ on the assertive closer ‘When I’m Asleep‘.

Jesca Hoop has made a very tight, moving and surprisingly instant record here, her song writing alone is exceptional and this is an album I think I’ll be returning to a lot. Seek it out; I don’t think you’ll be either bored or disappointed. Dig this record indeed.