The House That Jack Built takes you by surprise from the outset. On the album’s glossy pop opener, “Born To,” Jesca Hoop starts the album in a direction that strays far from the path you might expect. Superficially, it has the sound of a major label. With its sharp hooks and sultry, affected vocals, it’s essentially radio-ready. But listening a bit more closely, you notice it’s surprisingly ornate. It has a hard-to-pinpoint style, possessing small elements that intrigue and grow throughout its entirety. And you realize the songwriting is pretty great, too. Soon you descend down the track list, losing a bit of the gloss intermittently along the way, but always holding onto the skilled lyricism and exciting eagerness to experiment and expand the sound. So, no, it comes as no surprise that Tom Waits took a liking to Hoop. While it’s unfair to plainly label her the Female Tom Waits, the two do share an affinity for carefully chosen words and songs that are only reminiscent of one another due to their mutual weirdness.
Besides “Born To,” there are a few other enjoyable moments of pop inspiration. “Peacemaker” has an industrial-pop sound to it and it ends up being really hard to get out of your head. “Ode to Banksy” is quirky and one of the more amusing songs on the record. At the bottom of the track list, “When I’m Asleep” closes as a rousing siren song that allows the album to approach its finale on a high. Hoop also expresses tales of familial travails, both songs dealing largely with her complex relationship with her father. “DNR,” which deals mainly with her relationship with her father, the man, and “The House That Jack Built,” which deals with relationship with her father’s memory, are lyrical triumphs. Furthermore, they are handled capably by Hoop, who never manages to make the songs feel trite.
Hoop pretty much possesses the whole package. She wields just the right voice to pump out lyrics that are at times profound, at times amusing and always fairly brash. And while the album has its share of songs that are, on the surface, airy and catchy, there are also moments of bracing, effective claustrophobia. It doesn’t always fit perfectly together and at times it seems like the parts are greater than the eventual sum, but nonetheless you come away having fully experienced Hoop’s very distinct, lovable persona.
MP3: Jesca Hoop “Born To”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl