Jesca Hoop – The House That Jack Built (Bella Union)

CB | It’s been three years since Jesca Hoop’s debut album Hunting My Dress and since 2009 much has happened to Hoop, both personally and professionally. The House That Jack Built is dedicated to Hoop’s father Jack Dennis Hoop, and with the exception of current single ‘Hospital (Win Your Love)’, a joyously catchy slice of sixties flavoured indie pop kitsch, the most personal songs are also the saddest ones.

While ‘Hospital’ is a general piece rooted in personal observation, which focuses on childhood and the associated social cache a broken arm can give an attention seeking child, songs such as ‘The House That Jack Built’ and ‘DNR’ are bleaker affairs. The former is poignant in its description of raking over the ashes of a parent’s life upon their death, and realising how little you know those who brought you into the world, whereas the latter deals specifically with Jack Hoop’s final days. That these tracks don’t overwhelm the album is testament to the subtleties of Hoop as a songwriter, her tone is descriptive and unflinching, but never melodramatic and this is complemented by the sparse folk melodies of the two songs.

It is on ‘Peacemaker’, a song inspired by the theatre of Ancient Rome, that it’s possible to hear how far Hoop has come as a songwriter since Hunting My Dress. This complex tale of war and the evils perpetuated by soldiers in warzones also includes an inner narrative in which a woman withholds sexual congress from her soldier partner, and details the ways in which women and children are so often the victims of rampages by an avenging military. Ambushes of the flesh are contrasted with ambushes of both physical and sexual violence, and the military imagery used to discuss this makes it clear that Hoop is thinking about modern day warfare as well as the ancient kind. It’s incredibly complex, layered and analytical, but it’s also powerful and highly compelling, not to mention both haunting and very listenable.

Opening track, and first single from the album, ‘Born To’ is perhaps one of the most musically complex tracks on the album in that it sounds at once like a typical slice of post millennium Mancunia as well as a much more lyrically elusive and enigmatic beast.

The second single from the album is the aforementioned ‘Hospital’, which is as catchy as anything from the Brill Building circa 1966 and is full of the bratty self righteousness of Lesley Gore’s ‘It’s My Party’. This is Hoop at her youngest, and ‘Pack Animal’ and ‘Ode to Banksy’ are characterised by a similar whimsical skittishness, providing the light to the shade of ‘DNR’, ‘Peacemaker’ and the dramatic ‘Deeper Devastation’.

Perhaps the two most surprising tracks from a purely musical perspective are the garage scowl that is ‘Dig This Record’, which may be kin to ‘Four Dreams’ in that it is a song about the love of music itself, but which seems to owe as much to the Stooges as to, perhaps, the Kinks. And album closer ‘When I’m Asleep’, a shamanic tour de force that deploys bhangra rhythms in a rock context while exploring the unconscious mind.

With its mixture of folk, rock, pathos and humour, not to mention its overall lyrical and musical sophistication, this is a strong contender for album of the year.

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