Over the years and albums, Jesca Hoop has moved from a rocker with rootsy tendencies to a rootsy folk singer-songwriter with quirky rock tendencies. That may sound like silly semantics but the move towards quieter folk over raucous guitars continues to pull Jesca in. ‘Stonechild’ is another step in this direction but its a fantastic one.
After the rigidity of ‘Memories Are Now’, ‘Stonechild’ is a more fluid album. Although quieter, the flow of it elevates the beauty of each song. Opening with ‘Free of the Feeling’ you have lush vocal arrangements, gentle finger plucking of the guitars and a lullaby percussive side. Jesca Hoop’s penchant for minor keys play heavily throughout but are excellently placed in ‘Shoulder Charge’. It’s a powerful acoustic and vocal track that is given an electric guitar ambient shroud. It tee’s up a lot of what makes the album so good. The melodies are strong and left to linger on your mind with the space that the writing and production give it. Nowhere is it best shown that in the standout ‘Footfall to the Path’. It’s witchy tones break out into a taut chant in the middle supported with electric guitar before returning to the fluidity of a forest river. Gentle keyboard sounds rotate around the instruments and multiple layers of voice. It sounds deceptively simple but the complexity is there if you want it.
Jesca Hoop loves darker, unusual lyrics and ‘Death Row’ takes the stand here for the album. A delicate and often beautiful pitter-patter of a folk song then declares ‘I hope you have a good death, a very good death’. Out of context, this has the potential for so many uses! Single ‘Red, White and Black’ is a hushed whisper of taut pensive wonder. It feels strange to think this track is possibly the most radio-friendly and rock of the album. The near-gospel choruses and reversed lyrics for the middle section are inspired too. The only other rock track is ‘Passage End’ which is the penultimate track. It’s a cathartic plodding piece that reminds me a little of Lisa Germano – as this album as a whole does.
The majority of the second half of the album is ballad and slow song heavy. ’01 Tear’ feels like the most Americana and straight forward track on the album. ‘All Time Low’ has a vintage feel to it as the guitar and voice intertwine. Jesca’s high register is crystal clear in many songs but the lilting way the second half of this song works is gorgeous and heartbreaking. In contrast ‘Outside of Eden’ is like a missing Kismet track with its warmth and bounce. Kate Stables and Justis join in to give a mild Joanna Newsom vibe. By that, I mean that the childish vocals give a real sense of purity and innocence. It’s a real highlight of the album. The album closes with the darker tone of ‘Time Capsule’ returning to that ambient shroud around the guitar and vocal arrangements. The waltzing discord clearly portrays that this time may not be something she’d like to bury for rediscovery but it sure does make a solemn tune.
For me, ‘Stonechild’ is a riveting return to form for Jesca Hoop – not that she really went away. I really fell in love with the way how this album is almost entirely playable on just an instrument and a voice – but has lots of tiny embellishments to fill out the sound. It’s an album to get deeply immersed in. You may need a few listens to pick up on some of the tracks that refuse to give away their secrets on the first listen but Jesca Hoop has created an album in ‘Stonechild’ that will reveal new things months down the line.
Recommended track: Footfall to the Path
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