She once worked as a nanny to Tom Waits’s three kids, but clear-voiced Jesca Hoop didn’t need to take any singing tips from her former employer. True, some of the Waits weirdness may have rubbed off on the Californian. Her second album has an off-kilter magic that’s as theatrical and quietly outlandish as any of his recent records.
Like Waits, Hoop is a performer of many faces. At times she sounds like she was plucked from the bosom of the 1960s British folk community
(Hunting My Dress). At others, her quirky lo-fi, poppy rattle is similar to something from Devendra Banhart (the plinky clatter and snug harmonies of Four Dreams).
Yet there are also strong elements of forthright female musicians with striking creative visions on display: Tori Amos, Imogen Heap and even Björk seem to have influenced Hoop. The cadence of her vocal delivery occasionally sounds like she spent her teenage years drowning in Kate Bush’s back catalogue.
Throughout it all, Hoop keeps things cloaked in a veil of strangeness that’s intriguing rather than self-consciously wacky. The Kingdom is an exercise in macabre medieval folk, an odd incantation with an almost tribal beat that wouldn’t have sounded out of place at a 17th-century witch trial. The dreamt, ghostlike airings and backward-sounding vocals on Whispering Lights sounds like St Vincent performing in Twin Peaks on a windy Tuesday night. The initially sombre Angel
Mom unleashes a dramatic metallic snap as it hurtles headlong into its chorus.
Things are steered back to the comparative mainstream with
Murder of Birds, with Elbow’s Guy Garvey adding some rough texture to offset the transparency of Hoop’s chaste vocals. There are peaks and troughs to
Hunting My Dress but, overall, the album’s deliciously odd ambience is one to savour. www.jescahoop.com LAUREN MURPHY
Download tracks: Whispering Light, Four Dreams