Long before we were married, my wife and I literally exhausted our copy of Jesca Hoop’s debut, Kismet. A yearly road trip to Seattle for Christmas means repacking my CD case with albums that we both like (don’t worry, friends: London Calling still gets to come along for the ride. It even gets played once in a while) and we both liked Kismet a lot. On that record, Hoop ran rings around other would-be eccentric folkish chick singers (giving a long, disapproving look in your direction, indie darling Joanna Newsom) and created satisfying pop songs and gorgeous ballads in equal measure. In fact, Kismet may have been the most underrated album of 2008. Because I spent literally all of my vacation time and then some on my wedding, I won’t be making the road trip this Christmas (sorry, new in-laws), but Jesca Hoop’s debut still has permanent residence in my car.
That said, the wife and I have been ready for a new Jesca Hoop album since Christmas of 2009. We know literally every word of Kismet (we’d start a Kismet tribute band but it would be just guitar and violin and probably not very good). Luckily, Tom Waits’s former nanny (true story – you can Google that shit. I’ll save you the trouble and tell you three things Jesca Hoop used to be: 1) nanny to the Waits kids, 2) a Mormon, and 3) a Los Angeles resident) delivered Hunting My Dress just in time for it to come on our honeymoon with us. Now, when I exhaust my copy of this album, I’ll be ready to go back to Kismet.
The problem with being a somewhat eccentric musician is that it creates a very tough line for you to walk. On one side of that line, you’re quirky, fun, and/or a totally badass weirdo (think the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne) and on the other, you’re a novelty act (think those assholes who did “Heaven is a Half-Pipe”). Like her former employer, Jesca Hoop gets a lot of mileage from playing with her voice in unusual ways and by blending myriad musical styles into a simultaneously new and old deal that is entirely satisfying to the listener. And, like the aforementioned Mr. Coyne (and like Tom Waits – this should go without saying, yeah?), Jesca Hoop seems to be genuinely, wonderfully freaky. Hunting My Dress features the same sort of childlike, laughing, seductive vocal work that its predecessor did and if I can digress for just a second (and I think I can), why is it that women with nine-thousand octave vocal ranges and predictable vibrato bullshit are so frequently lauded as great singers (think Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera) while women like Jesca Hoop, who use their voices as real instruments seem to go unnoticed by the world at large? Help me out here. Can I blame American Idol for this or do I have to assume that most people just wouldn’t know good music if it fucked their mom and sired them? I want to have faith in people and I’d like to think that, given the chance to hear music like Jesca Hoop’s, a lot of people would dig it. I guess what I’m really getting at is that I’d like to live in a Bizzarro World where no one had ever heard of Mariah Carey but we all owned both of Jesca Hoop’s albums.
Lyrically, Hoop is still just as comfortable proving she’s played Dungeons and Dragons (“The Kingdom”) as she is singing love songs (“Murder of Birds” and “Feast of the Heart,” both of which are fucking exceptional tunes) and that alone is something that is both totally necessary and mostly lacking in modern music. Take, for instance, any given American Idol winner: I guarantee you that every single one of their songs – every fucking one – is about love and can be further subdivided into a) happy love songs and b) sad love songs. Is this all that happens to people anymore? Jesca Hoop sings about wars in Heaven and dreams she’s had (some of which are about the Beastie Boys, if “Four Dreams” is to be believed) and Hurricane Fucking Katrina – where’s the variety, you VH1 Divas? You can really make a dozen albums on “I was in love and then I wasn’t”? If that’s true, I want every woman reading this (I assume there’s at least one of you) to stop what you’re doing right now and go record an album. Just write the first ten or twelve things that come to your mind about love, be they happy or sad. And ladies, don’t bother being complex – the radio apparently hates a smart chick.
I digressed again. But fuck it. The only thing you really need to know about Hunting My Dress is that it’s every bit as excellent as Kismet was and, whether or not she ever gets the respect she’s due, Jesca Hoop is a force for awesomeness in music. Buy this record and listen to it while you’re playing D&D and/or fucking.