Since her first outing with Silverscreen Demos in 2004 the complete canon of Jesca Hoop is not vast, but then again quality is always better than quantity. Her new album, The House That Jack Built, thankfully maintains the calibre of her select output. The disconcerting thing is perhaps the inconsistency of the contents. Tracks such as "Hospital" and "Peacemaker" are veering a little into the realms of pop music and whilst they can still bear examination by anyone’s standards they lack a certain gravitas if held up to the light of the more outstanding tracks.
There is a jauntiness prevalent throughout but when some of the subject matter is examined more closely one could be tempted into thinking that much of it is her attempt to put a brave face on personal circumstances. The opening track, "Born To", is an example of just such upbeat insouciance.
More to the point it’s debatable whether Jesca Hoop needs to tip a nod to street cred with "Ode to Banksy" and indeed, should it not be Bansky painting some deferential mural to honour her. Banksy might be laughing all the way to the banksy now but if there’s any justice her music should stand the test of time better. The song is another infectious and effervescent cocktail which contains some witty lyrics – "I’m in love with Jaques Cousteau, you take me deeper than I ever go" - and the double entendre of "there’s not much lead left in my pencil", but it’s certainly not as memorable as the preceding title track.
"The House That Jack Built" allows much more scope for her wonderfully beautiful voice. She sings with unique inflections and pronunciations that can be lost in the up-tempo numbers. Here she uses her delivery to great effect in this telling of paternal dynamics, reflections and remorse and regrets. Sadness inevitably shines to the fore on this album and no amount of cheery whimsy elsewhere will disguise the telling on her heart that is clearly still present.
In a similar vein "DNR" is probably the most powerful song in the collection and exquisitely crafted. It’s sweet sounding and prettily delivered, yet beneath the dainty presentation lies genuine pathos in respect of her late father. For those that don’t know, the initials stand for Do Not Resuscitate and it’s a written legal order acknowledging the right of the patient. There is a cruel irony that the letters are sung in repetition against some folksy guitar work like some jolly chant on a charabang outing. Again the architecture of the song demonstrates that she is lyrically head, shoulders and torso above most other wordsmiths out there.
Human relationships are invariably the meat and potatoes of music. Often the exponents are writing through expediency rather than experience. This album is laced with the exposition of her nerve endings. "Deeper Devastation" compounds her questioning, self-berating vulnerability with an emotively strong vocal that swells like a gospel spiritual. It may be a cliché to say that one has to suffer for one’s art but certainly the more memorable tracks seem to have been born more from anguish rather than joy.
To sum up perhaps both she and the industry machinery felt she should incline towards the straight and narrow rather than return to any less commercial pathway. Even so, any shortcomings, and to be honest you have to pick nits to find them, are minor flaws in another great release. It benefits from excellent production values and certainly gets better with listening. Some of it unequivocally ranks alongside the best of Jesca Hoop and the whole thing is definitely worthy of ownership.
Release: 25th June 2012, Curuja