When Jesca Hoop drew attention with 2009’s Hunting My Dress, much was made of a history including time spent living “off the grid” and working as Tom Waits’ nanny. Lively as the CV was, though, Hoop’s songs and voice proved equally singular, her stark elegies, surreal dream-folk, skronky blues-pop and murder ballads landing on-target no matter how freely the California-born, Manchester-based singer-songwriter ranged.
Hoop’s third album repeats her second’s tricks, only more so: broader, friskier and sharper, its earthy and mercurial spins on alt-folk brim with charisma, feeling and fecund reserves of imagination.
Hoop’s wrong-footing instincts kick in on the opening Born To, an atypical power-folk motivator that seems too on-the-nose for a singer so fleet. But her vivid imagination sparks in elemental images - “spin her out of dust into rock and fire” – and her voice skirts obvious melodies, circling the lyrics like an interrogation.
Questing instincts ferry Hoop to songs of selfhood (Pack Animal) and sexuality (Peacemaker) next – one introspective, the other gutsy and empowered, style matched to subject. That exacting touch also drives Ode to Banksy, a street-art celebration that possesses an enthused melodic vibrancy evocative of inspiration’s rush.
But Hoop is at her best when she roots her flightiness in deep soil. Reflecting on her dad’s death in the title track and D.N.R., she strips back the production and strips the breath away, raising tough dilemmas (“My sister asked / Are we praying for him to pass?”) over a plucked guitar that haunts like an unresolved question.
Parent problems power the infectious Hospital (Win Your Love) too, where Hoop sings as a child craving injury to earn her parents’ attentions. As its rustic rhythms bounce into a cheery chorus (“There’s nothing like a broken arm to win your love”), the playfulness is smartly undercut in a push-pull of light/dark typical of Hoop’s grippingly slippery voice: why so miserly with the love, parents?
On the strength of this richly felt, richly imagined album, though, lack of love needn’t concern Hoop. She needs busted limbs like she needs another Waits name-drop to magnetise our interest.
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