Jesca Hoop’s latest album acknowledges the brutality of life.
Jesca Hoop’s latest album acknowledges the brutality of life. Stonechild takes its name from an unborn fetus that lingered, stone-like, in its mother. In case that feels palatable, there’s plenty of violence; bad things happen, but we also reinforce the bad. As Hoop picks her way through 11 haunted songs, she sorts out ill will from limited hope, disaster from simply being human. The performances are mostly beautiful, the lyrics slanting past clear narrative even as the emotional line runs true. Hoop watches as everything turns to dust, but she also finds a reason to hold on as the decay settles around her.
Without “Shoulder Charge,” the album’s other spots of brightness might not come clear. The light would still shine, but we might forget to look for it. Hoop starts alone with her fingerpicking, singing “I’ve been going through something quietly/ So quietly/ Nobody knows my trouble.” The song buries into isolation, but the presence of vocals from Lucius’ Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig reveal that something more goes on. Before Hoop can finally descend into urban solitude, she recognizes “That we might just all be in this together/ Empathy’s contagious.” The dynamics of the song trace the development, building to despair before settling with shoulders together as the song quiets, the epiphany earned and embraced seriously.
The awareness of empathy gives the album sense. Hoop takes challenging looks at difficult topics, but there’s something in the music more than either shock or catharsis. Unveiling the harshness allows for a form of connection. We can’t avoid our hurt—“The moment you reach out to take hold of beauty is the moment that she turns to go,” Hoop sings at one point—but we can explore it openly. The late-night dismay given just enough illumination that we can see past our own wounds.
Which doesn’t mean Hoop’s above inflicting some wounds of her own. She changes tones as easily as she switches alternate tunings, the British folk influences tracing through her thoughts. If she shares empathy, she can depict meanness, too, as when the mother in “Old Fear of Father” suffers under the weight of a misogynistic society while inflicting more of the same on her daughter. “At least you’re pretty,” she lilts, the sneer barely audible for its carving deep within.
“Footfall to the Path” suffers under its own cynicism, the rejection of love a void of abandonment. “Death Row” is its wisdom turned outward, recognizing even at birth the unpleasantness to come, the end of everything. It might be all just part of being human, but tracks like the digitized “01 Tear” and the folk “Outside of Eden” questioning what that idea would even mean. The latter track in particular demands answers, with the titular location populated with technology designed for isolation and simulacrum.
But what if the phones only keep us from the central element of humanity, our pain? Hoop has us listen to a mother bury her “stonechild” amid her alien folk world and then moves on, tunneling into a dark soil. And yet there’s “Shoulder Charge,” and there are hints that we’re here together, even if we shove each other away. The album opens with a song about escaping feeling and closes with one on how our lives can be divided by our wounds, yet the entire enterprise looks not only at this brutality, but through it. Hoop may wonder about what remains unnamed, yet she names it in her own way and in naming it finds that “Nothing one can go through/ Has not been shared by two.” It’s all hard, and Hoop stares it all down.