The House That Jack Built
If ever a female fit in to the “A Beard Is A State Of Mind” camp, Jesca Hoop certainly does. She is an intelligent, individual songwriter who cares not for creating records that will blend in to the mainstream, selling millions of copies to the sort of people who think that Adele is a valid musical artiste. That is not to say that her music is inaccessible – just that she dances to her own tune.
I have had a serious girl-crush on Jesca Hoop for a few years now. I love her style and the way she dresses; her interesting lyrics and offbeat musical settings totally captivate me. I listened to both of her previous albums [Kismet and Hunting My Dress] incessantly, and have also been to see her play twice – quite incredible for a socially awkward recluse who barely leaves the house. I remember blurting something like “I love your music!” [or it may just have been a slightly more embarrassing “I love you!” – I can’t remember, I was drunk] while asking her to sign my CD at one gig. I was frozen in that moment where you want to say something truly profound about how much someone’s work means to you, but your brain temporarily disconnects from your mouth. She was very polite. So, with that out of the way, I will now attempt to bring some kind of objectiveness to this review.
‘Quirky’ is one of the first descriptors that tends to be used in connection with Jesca Hoop. Those who are familiar with her work are probably already aware of her back story, but it is interesting enough to bear repeating for those arriving new to her music. I shall summarise: brought up Mormon; ran away to live with her sister in New York; spent some time living wild with some hippies; became a child-minder for Tom Wait’s kids; got “discovered” by Guy Garvey [yes, THAT Guy Garvey]; and under his persuasion, moved from Los Angeles to Manchester - as you do. She first gained attention on both sides of the pond while she was touring with Elbow as their opening act. She has also recently toured as support act for The Eels, and as a backing singer for Peter Gabriel, as well as in her own right. The House That Jack Built is her third full length album release, and it draws some thematic influence from the death of her father, the eponymous ‘Jack’ of the album’s title.
The subject matter for her songs is rarely conventional, and the instrumentation often matches this trend. Her songs range from the intensely personal, such as the title track, or D.N.R.; to the exploration of folklore and mythology as in the song Peacemaker[a song about Ancient Greek women going on sex strike]. As with the first album, she has very helpfully provided the lyrics in her sleeve notes. On the second album, I was left wondering what some of her obscure lyrics actually were - coupled with her sometimes odd enunciation / pronunciation. Although that is part of the wonderful mystery, it is nice to have a fuller sense of what she is conveying. For example, in Ode To Banksyshe repeats the phrase “In my skull”, which on the record sounds to me like “In Moscow”.
The House That Jack Builtimproved for me listen on listen. You never get a “filler” track on a Jesca Hoop album, so anything that doesn’t appeal on first listen, you know will grow on you eventually. By the third time through, there wasn’t a song on it I didn’t like, and the melodies stayed with me afterwards. She has a knack of crafting melodies that sound like they have always existed. It is unmistakably a Jesca Hoop album, but it isn’t a carbon copy of her previous works – it shows a development of style. The title track comes halfway through the album, almost like a pause for breath, as it is a slow song and the production is very sparse and stripped back. You can hear at one point after a section of high range vocals, a little cough that has been kept in the recording. This is a beautiful little personal touch. You can also hear the sound of the vocal room in D.N.R.when she really opens up her lungs – again, absolutely beautiful. These two songs are perhaps the most personal, relating to her father, and they are also the two that are laid most bare in the production.
It’s hard to pick out my favourite tracks, but at the moment it’s either Pack Animal- a song about spending a lot of time in your own company - or the last track, When I’m Asleep- she keeps a blog about her vivid and intense dreams. If you asked me again tomorrow, I’d probably pick out a different two. The sound she makes, this kind of music, stirs something in my soul - it makes me excited. If I was one of the Beard Rock boys, I might say it makes my dick twitch. [I won’t attempt to offer a female equivalent.] She makes the music that if I could, if I had an iota of her talent, I would want to make myself. If I gave this anything less than 5 Beards it would be because I was trying to show how objective I can be, but it would be a falsehood. She occupies the place in my heart that Tori Amos presided over in my teens – she can do no wrong for me.
Posted: Mon 9 July 2012