When listening to Jesca Hoop for the first time, she can seem to be enigmatic and slightly out of reach. But with time and consideration, it is easy to see how she is one of the most talented and brave singer-songwriters around. Hoop has graced us with her fifth album Stonechild, which cycles through different music styles, from American folk to a dollop of Joni Mitchell with a hint of musical theatre. With a combination like that, it is difficult to figure out how it is going to work. But it does.
Stonechild is named after a museum exhibit of a calcified foetus that a woman carried for decades with the parallel is drawn between this album and the museum. Both are intensely emotive and conjure incredibly powerful imagery, without apology or explanation. Hoop uses this album to engage with societal norms and problems and personal revelations.
“Shoulder Change” is a lyrical confession that engages the listener with a calming backing and confident voice. What strikes me about this track is its level of hopelessness and awareness of how we are all shaped by the world around us, while all being confirmed in the lyrics, “I came out of this world, not into this world.”
With a driving folk introduction “Free of Feeling” is the musical equivalent to travelling across America, Western style. There is a communal feeling to the repetitious harmonies that are akin to a roaming wagon train. The vocals create this ethereal feeling of strength and mysticism. It is a beautiful track that melts into acapella harmonies that make this track sounds like a little like heaven.
The introduction of “All Time Low”, lulls us in with a plucking guitar intro, Hoop’s voice pierces through the acoustic calm with a voice that is expressive and slightly acted out. The most beautiful part of this track is the run of melody. It is slightly musical theatre-esque. Not the funny kind, the kind that uses both music and lyrics to convey emotion. Her voice swells but never to a roar but to a beautiful soaring high notes that are heavenly and gracious. It ends with the sound of children playing and laughter giving us a musical palette cleanser before moving on.
“Death Row” is exactly as dark as you think it would be. While it starts off in a dreamy lull, you are quickly introduced to a group of female voices. Hoop normally walks the thin line between lyrical wonder and art, and this track jumps straight in. A song about life, death, and living all through the medium of uplifting and hymn like music, it is the hidden wonder of the album.
For a while now, I have been searching for someone that uses their music to connect with life, through music and lyrics that are equally poetic. Joni Mitchell was able to do that with such ease. Hoop is the closest I have found to this songwriting oasis. With beautiful poetic lyrics and calming melodies, she has made a strangely spiritual album.