Jesca Hoop’s debut LP Hunting My Dress kicks off with Whispering Light, a track introduced to the listener through a bizarre and enchanting chorus of vocal trickery that sounds like a chorus of pan pipes. It then eases in to a darker, moody territory with lyrics like “and lightning rods will guide your journey home / and revelations from a fist of bones.” The echoes and tone of which sound like they are being recited as part of a clandestine ceremony in the bowels of a stone monastery. In a good way.
The mood lightens a little with the opening of The Kingdom. The track is bookended by a traditional folk guitar and singing before those pan pipe vocals rise up again and guide you in to a composition more sinister in feeling with shades of Elvis Costello‘s When I Was Cruel. The antiquated lyrics speaking of “brethren” and “promised lands” signal the traditional folk influences on display throughout the album as well as betray the influence Hoop’s strict Mormon upbringing has had on her songwriting.
Almost as a reminder of which century we’re in, Feast Of The Heart begins with a riff that would be at home on a Radiohead album before Hoop bursts in with PJ Harvey-esque vocals. Those edgier rock vocals compete throughout the song with the sweeter, folky tones of the voice evidenced on the preceding tracks.
Towards the end of the song the main instruments and vocals fade out to reveal the hidden artefacts that are lurking under the surface of the production, threatening to draw you in to an eerie underworld before a final crescendo of noise to wake you up again. Angel Mom continues to showcase the inventiveness and vast range of ideas between and even within each song.
Four Dreams twists the old blues music of the American south into the most upbeat song on the album through a kind of fairytale; a type of referential style similar to Australian artist Kate Miller-Heidke in unpredictable and improvisational lyrical stylings. On the single, Murder Of Birds, Hoop is joined by Guy Garvey of Elbow who lends his voice to the harmonies in the arrangement.
Hoop and Garvey became friends after she appeared on his BBC6 Radio show and he asked her to tour with Elbow through the US and UK. It’s the least experimental tune on the album and the one most suited to mass appeal, but not necessarily the best or well crafted. It’s still beautiful, and it wouldn’t be out of place on Sting‘s Songs From The Labyrinth with it’s plucky charm and ye olde timey folk composition.
You could spend the whole album trying to pigeonhole Jesca Hoop by comparing her to other artists. At any given time she might remind you of Suzanne Vega (like on Bed Across The Sea), Bj�rk, and/or Tori Amos at their popular and creative peaks. It’s far more fun, however, to sit back and appreciate the album as the dawning of a new, unique voice which, through its influences (both obvious and not-so), is blending styles and carving a niche in to the increasingly crowded canon of independent and original female artists.