Jesca Hoop has had an unusual career trajectory, to say the least. A native of northern California, Hoop got her foot in the door in the music business by serving as a nanny for Tom Waits' children. After her first CD Kismet came out in 2007, Hoop made guest appearances on The Ditty Bops' 2008 album Summer Rains and also made friends with the Manchester, England band Elbow. Elbow's singer Guy Garvey talked Hoop into moving to Manchester, where Hoop put the finishing touches on her second album Hunting My Dress.

Hunting My Dress is a quirky, eclectic, and strongly compelling collection of well-written songs. Hoop's music covers a broad spectrum between simple acoustic folk with subtle African influences, edgy alternative rock, and more dissonant, anarchic rock evocative of her former employer. Her lyrics range from giddy love songs like "Intelligentactile 101" (included as part of a bonus five-song EP) to more erotic songs like "Feast of the Heart," to surreal songs like "Four Dreams" inspired by her ability to vividly recall her experiences while sleeping, to more poignant songs like "Angel Mom" about her deceased mother. Hoop's vocal delivery is likewise diverse and unusual, running the gamut from angelic to aggravated. She even varies her accent in some of the songs, making some of her protagonists sound like they come from Manchester, for example.

Somehow, it all works. "The Kingdom" starts out as a solo acoustic song, but the addition of percussion an a change of rhythm magnify the tension dramatically. The strong, aggressively sensual single "Feast of the Heart" screams out for more airplay than it has presently gotten. "Murder of Birds" is a sublime piece of folk music, with a lead acoustic guitar nicely imitating a kora. "Bed Across the Sea" and "Tulip" have an insistent, unsettling drive to them. While I suppose most of the music on Hunting My Dress would be categorized as folk (at least to the extent that it can be categorized), Hoop is not afraid to challenge her audience or give her music an edge. She reminds me in good ways of Kate Bush at her best, not because they sound all that similar, but in the way they combine an appealing sort of weirdness with genuine artistry.

With Hunting My Dress, Jesca Hoop accomplishes the impressive double feat of making consistently excellent music without really sounding like anybody else. She's unique, off-kilter, very much outside of the box, and best of all, very good. Barring my acquisition of something super good in the next week, this will be my favorite album of 2010.

Overall grade: A

reviewed by Scott