The House That Jack Built
Bella Union Records, 2012
REVIEW BY: Tom Haugen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/18/2012
Sometimes who you know can make all the difference. Not that Northern California native Jesca Hoop doesn't possess a tremendous amount of talent in the area of pop, blues, folk and jazz. However, as the former nanny to Tom Waits' three children, she had a connection that helped her achieve her initial break.
With just a six-minute demo recorded on a four-track, Hoop was able to parlay her skill into tours with Matt Pond PA, Elbow, Mark Knopfler, and more recently Eels. Now, she has just released her third album, The House That Jack Built. Having relocated to Manchester, England in the two-plus years since her last album, the songstress has clearly done a lot of soul searching in that time.
This is an album packed with gentle balladry as well as powerful pop moments. Hoop offers her most diverse work to date here while still retaining her moody and dark yet elegant atmospheres. “Hospital (Win Your Love)” is one of the brighter moments here, a track full of vibrant pop energy. “Born To” bridges the gap between her often-critiqued weirdness and universally embraced choruses – it’s a song that will surely appeal to fans of mainstream music. By contrast, “When I'm Asleep” goes to a much colder place yet still finds plenty of grace and beauty shining through. Though she often delivers very intricate work here, songs like “Pack Animal” and the title track keep things sparse, relying heavily on Hoop's extremely distinct voice to shine.
Lyrically this disc has a lot of depth, and Hoop is always so eloquent with her imagery. “DNR” illustrates Hoop's relationship with her late father, while “Deeper Devasation” questions human nature and people's motivations. Her wordplay is always emotive, often cathartic, and suits her unique vision of music well. It just wouldn't seem right to insert standard prose into songs that move so unpredictably.
Ultimately, this album presents an unclassifiable version of folk-pop that Tom Waits describes as “like going swimming in the lake at night.” Though Hoop's atypical arrangements are still evident here, there is also plenty of polished pop influence that will surely appeal to new fans as well. As a reference point, think of a bizarre combination of Suzanne Vega and PJ Harvey.