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Jesca Hoop

Hunting My Dress

(Vanguard; US: 27 Jul 2010; UK: 1 Feb 2010)

Jesca Hoop would make one hell of an interview.


Raised by Mormons, escaping to travel the country with Deadheads, she eventually settled for something less unusual: working as a nanny for legendary musical chameleon Tom Waits, a job title nearly as impressive as her music.


Oh, wait, that’s still pretty weird. The nanny thing comes through in the music, too—a large handful of these tracks, with their gently picked acoustics and mystical vocal harmonies, are as dreamy and transportive as a great bedtime story. If you went that route and played these songs for your kids, there’s a chance they’d grow up significantly cooler. Then again, there’s also the off-chance you’ll just freak the shit out of them. The deeper you dig, the weirder things get—the lyrics, filled with splatters of blood and visitations from dead moms—start to feel more like campfire tales than “once upon a times”.


Hoop sure knows how to start off an album—the opening quartet of tracks on Hunting My Dress is mesmerizing, working the listener into a disoriented bliss (the best kind) by presenting a string of warped, darkly shaded, at times frightening songs that are, at the same time, very inviting and beautiful. Waits once likened her music to “going swimming in a lake at night”. That just about sums it up.


The eerie, melodically unsteady vocal harmonies that open “Whispering Light” are akin in spirit to a Kate Bush or Bjork frolic, but it quickly becomes clear that Hoop isn’t just a follower but an artist capably combining her influences, operating in her own singular headspace. No other word besides “beautiful” is as apt for describing “The Kingdom”, which begins with quiet nature sounds and develops with a mystical, moving chord progression and pounding tribal drums. It wouldn’t sound out of place on the latest Bat for Lashes album, but where that artist’s otherworldly qualities often sound labored, Hoop never seems to strain for hers. This is the refreshing sound of alien incarnate.


The bassy, booming electric guitars and creepy atmosphere in “Feast of the Heart” hint at legitimate Radiohead territory, and the rapid changes in structure and instrumentation sound like pretty much nothing else. During the chorus (or at least…what could be called the chorus), Hoop, sounding tense and rabid, sings, “Wanna eat my heart/Boy, you make me feel/Wanna be your blood”. Sure thing, Jesca—Where’s the door again?  Lines that, on paper, read like lazy, gothic mumblings, are transported into something far more tangible and therapeutic through Hoop’s commanding grasp. This is thoroughly exciting music that dares you not to listen.


“Angel Mom” could describe a vivid dream or an experience with the supernatural. Hoop reflects, “Today on my birthday/ you were home when I arrived. You were standing in the doorway/When I pulled into the drive/ An excitement came over me/And I rushed out of the car/And I jumped out to be carried in your arms.”  When she, overcome with emotion, manages to release the line, “I haven’t felt that way since I was a child”, she reaches a vulnerable, emotional high point that is scarcely matched in this kind of music.


But what kind of music is this, anyway?  The moods and stylistic leaps made on Hunting My Dress are all the more impressive when you consider how well the album hangs together. Its uniformity is its most attractive trait—for the first four tracks, this works perfectly as a continuous listening experience, which is what makes mid-album clunker “Four Dreams” even more frustrating than it already is. Its messy, ramshackle clatter sounds like a track Beck Hansen might record then reject, and the poppy, little girl vocal-style chanting (Come and bring your stereo!/Down into a dream we go!) is jarring, out of place, and just plain annoying.


Unfortunately, “Four Dreams” serves as a bad omen. After such a strong start, Hoop’s songs become increasingly less exciting, settling for more standard instrumentation and song structures. The longer the album goes on, the less weird she gets, peaking in normalcy and, ultimately, boredom, with the five minute siren song “Tulip”. Convention doesn’t suit her well.


Keep your ears peeled for what she does next. I have a feeling the best, weirdest moments on Hunting My Dress aren’t flukes. In the meantime, I wonder if she’s available for an interview?

Rating:

Ryan Reed is an Adjunct English Professor, English Department Graduate Assistant, and freelance music critic/journalist with degrees in English and Journalism. In addition to serving as an Associate Music Editor/Music Writer with PopMatters, he contributes reviews, feature stories, and other work to Billboard, Paste, American Songwriter, Boston Phoenix, Relix, Blurt, Metro Pulse, Cleveland Scene, and a handful of others. If you want to contact him for any reason, send an e-mail to rreed6128[at]hotmail.com.


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