Jesca Hoop’s 2012 release THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT might sound alien to fans of Hoop. Her previous HUNTING MY DRESS was an organic album built with acoustic sounds. In 2007, Tom Waits even described her earlier music as “like going swimming in a lake at night.” This new album is a very different sound for the singer/songwriter, but even if the sound has changed, the creative songwriting surely hasn’t. THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT is a great exercise — its 11 tracks cover a ton of ground both musically, tonally, and lyrically.

The album begins with its lead single “Born To.” “Born To” isn’t the best song on the album, and it’s not even the poppiest.  Instead, the track serves as a great way for listeners to dip their toes into Hoop’s music and lyrics.  It’s a more processed/compressed sound that most of the other tracks on the album, but the production doesn’t hinder a fantastic melody. “Peacemaker,” a highlight on the album, is a whirlwind of sonic instrumentation — there’s Middle Eastern tones here, electronic drum samples, rumbling acoustic guitars, and light synthesizers. The song is confident, and like the album, it doesn’t shy away from defying convention.  Three tracks in particular sound as if they could have also appeared on Hoop’s previous album: “The House that Jack Built,” “Deeper Devastation” and “Pack Animal.”

“Hospital (Win Your Love)” is poppier tour, and its cheery tone is a far cry from the previous track.  The song is Hoop’s second single from the album, and it wallows in its melodic accessibility.  The next trip to the hospital, however, isn’t such a tongue-in-cheek affair: “D.N.R.” is a beautiful acoustic track that follows the slow death of a loved one.  While devoid of drums (or any other instruments aside from vocals and acoustic guitar), it never feels empty and its lyrics are impossible to ignore.

“Ode to Banksy” is a punky and punchy tribute to the UK-based street artist; the song is a fun romp that refuses to stay in one spot for long.  “Dig This Record” is a slowburning, angsty powerhouse. It’s slow, but it doesn’t drag; instead, its tribal-like tone and vocals make it one of the best songs on the album.  “When I’m Asleep” is probably the best representative of Hoop’s output on THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT — it ranges in tone, volume, and instrumentation. It’s all over the place, but it’s held very tightly under Hoop’s control.

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT is fantastic. It’s a great blend of commercial accessibility and honest, authentic songwriting. Hoop’s voice is versatile, serving well on pop-centric songs and experimental, distorted folky barn-burners. I really hope that other fans of Hoop aren’t put off by the slightly more electronic direction Hoop has taken here: her songwriting is just as superb as its ever been. Recommended songs to download/sample: “When I’m Asleep,” “D.N.R.,” and “Born To.” These songs aren’t the best on the album, but they will give listeners an idea of what to expect from this album. THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT might be one of my favorite listens of 2012.

(Additional Release Info:)
Certain editions of Hoop’s album include an additional song entitled “Moon Rock Needle.” This song does not seem to appear on the US-Release of THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, but it does appear on some European versions. “Moon Rock Needle” is a fun track, but it’s giddiness overthrow the serious that “When I’m Asleep” establishes for an ending.

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