Why does Jesca Hoop sing with a Scottish lilt on the opening track of her latest LP, Hunting My Dress?
Because she feels like it.
The joy of this album lies in Ms. Hoop’s merry willingness to stray from the well-trodden paths of alt-country and contemporary folk. And so she sounds like a Braveheart character on “Whispering Light” amidst a backdrop of distant wind chimes and a chorus of “doo doo doos”that dance over the beat like fireflies.
The following track, “The Kingdom,” opens to the sound of crickets chirping, a crackling bonfire, and a nonchalant guitar, giving a ’round-the-campfire feel to the proceedings. Indeed, the song mentions heroic battles, medieval kings, and something about “bathing bones and brine.”
It’s a little melodramatic and a little silly, as campfire tales often are.
The next track, “Feast of the Heart,” features similarly campy lyrics like, “There’s a light switch, baby, you turned it on” and “Wanna be your blood/Boy you make me feel.” Again, the atmosphere salvages the cheesiness. Hoop mimics Shirley Manson in pitch and vocal intonation while grungy guitars and reverbed drums give the singsongy melody a surprising edge.
And so on. “Four Dreams” hearkens back to her previous work on 2007′s Kinset, what with its countrified bass line and barn-stomping percussion. “Down into a dream we go,” Hoop sings, and the listener can’t help but believe her; she’s got a brilliant knack for performing her songs in just the right mood. A plucky acoustic guitar and Hoop’s soaring vocals (backed by her mentor, Tom Waits) place “Murder of Birds”squarely in the midst of the bucolic paradise she yearns for when she states her desire to “make a home with a brown recluse/And the cobra locked outside.”
Even if Davy Crockett songs like this aren’t your cup of tea, you can’t deny the appeal of her carefully crafted sonic worlds.
“Bed Across the Sea” finds Hoop dropping the f-bomb while she struggles through a long-distance relationship. This is some Dear John stuff: “I can feel you as the words jump from the page.” Yet again, however, she submits to eclecticism, leaving behind such cliché lines in favor of more imaginative moments of poetry (“The sky is bruised/It’s lusty dark/Of the lovers’ rouge/Wet with soap and musk”) sung in Imogen Heap-esque harmony. By the end of the song, the listener shares Hoop’s excitement, and she rewards our participation with a delightfully choral outro and the assurance that “I’m in Australia.”
Do we understand why? Not quite, but when the music is this enticing, it doesn’t matter.
We have plenty of folk-country singer-songwriters working today, so it takes more than a clever melody and pleasant voice to stand out. By embracing her weirdness and never letting her songs get boring, Jesca Hoop manages to do just that. Even if you’ve been jaded by years of Lilith Fair platitude, Hunting My Dress is worth a listen.