Even if she had nothing beyond her autobiography to bring to her songwriting, Jesca Hoop would have plenty of tales to tell, being the child of folksinging Mormons, then going on to roam around the country as part of a pack of traveling Deadheads before winding up as the nanny for Tom Waits' family. But the California-bred Hoop does indeed have plenty of additional idiosyncratic ideas to offer, not just lyrically but musically, on her second album, Hunting My Dress
. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Hoop's work is the way she writes her own rulebook. Plenty of iconoclastic artists have decided to abjure musical convention in the past without coming up with anything worthy to replace it. Hoop, however, has pieced together her own modus operandi seemingly from scratch, with bits and pieces of Waits, Björk
, Kate Bush
, and PJ Harvey
thrown in among who knows what other stray influences -- the important thing is that it emerges as something uniquely hers. The crunchy riffs and angular alt-rock gallop of "Four Dreams" are perfectly contrasted by Hoop's feathery vocals and poppy refrain. The spare, acoustic ballad "Murder of Birds" -- with a guest vocal from longtime admirer Guy Garvey
-- seems to reach back to Hoop's early folk influences. Opening track "Whispering Light," apparently about Hoop's mother's battle against cancer, is a darkly atmospheric, almost theatrical piece marked by midtempo dance beats and deliciously creepy, unexpected harmonic/melodic turns. In the end, the one thing you can count on with Hunting My Dress
is that you never know what's coming next, and that turns out to be one of the album's greatest virtues.