Over four previous albums, singer and songwriter Jesca Hoop has been well-received for standing on the edges of indie folk, a raw-visioned outsider whose work has been in compared in some quarters to Devendra Banhart's and Joanna Newsome's (inaccurately in both cases). She has a compelling biography, but her ken for writing beautiful, strange songs is unassailable. Previously, they have been presented with rather minimal production. For fans, The House That Jack Built, her debut for Bella Union, will prove a startling change. Co-produced by Shawn Everett, Blake Mills, and Tony Berg, and performed mainly by Hoop and Mills, this set fully embraces polished -- even pristine -- electronically enhanced indie pop. This is good news: Hoop has stretched herself very far to the other side indeed. Some might argue too far, but with a collection of songs as strong as this, it amounts to a quibble. Album-opener "Born To" is driven by big-beat loops and skittering rhythms, layered vocals, and swooping synth; Hoop delivers what is essentially a paean to the liberation of her spirit. The hook is irresistible; the bridge influenced heavily by Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. "Pack Animal" is more accessible, simpler. Hoop's cadences and phrasing are as cagey as ever, but the refrain is irresistible in its catchy directness. "Peacemaker" commences with clashing synths, distorted basslines, and rhythmic loops before she begins singing. The intimate, vulnerable, yet militant lyrics stand in sharp contrast to the production; it's the sexiest song she's ever written. "Ode to Banksy" melds everything from bubblegum, indie pop, and '60s girl group tropes to funky futurism in homage to the artist. The most poignant cuts here deal with the death of her father and her relationship with him. The title cut features a sparse, shimmering jazzy guitar at its core (reminiscent of Vini Reilly's), and Hoop's heartbreaking falsetto. The other, entitled "D.N.R." features harp and acoustic guitar, with minimal keyboard embellishments; together they underscore the poignancy of the lyric. "Deeper Devastation" is a slow, mournful, atmospheric meld of ambient textures and shades of gray. Closer "When I'm Asleep" brings it full circle with a big-beat finish amid a wash of samples, and a brooding, soulful folk-blues. Think Kate Bush meets Ellen McIlwaine. The House That Jack Built may be aimed at a new audience, or it might simply be the record that Hoop had to make. Either way, it's welcome for the risks it takes and delivers on.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek