IT WAS often said of The Cure's 1982 album Pornography, that after beginning with the words, "It doesn't matter if we all die", it proceeded to get bleaker from there.
A certain echo of that is found in Stonechild, the magnificent fifth album, by California born, Manchester based, singer-songwriter, Jesca Hoop. "We go look for dark," she intones over the jumping, spiky, acoustic guitar figure of opening track 'Free Of The Feeling', a song which blossoms into more ambitious terrain thanks to the vocal movements of duo Lucius.
So begins a meditation on loneliness, neglect, and a feeling of not quite belonging. Most affecting is 'Old Fear Of Father', where, in a near falsetto, Hoop declares: "I love my boys, more than I love my girl." The melody is more associated with French chanson or the musicals, but the intimacy and honesty with which it is delivered give it a haunting, disquieting sense.
There is resistance to the bleakness: "Empathy is contagious...Nothing one can go through/has not been shared by two," Hoop chants on 'Shoulder Charge'. As the album progresses, the mood remains sombre and contemplative, but light enters the darkness, in the form of the aforementioned empathy ('All Time Low' ).
Yet it closes on an ambiguous note. Final track, the waltzing, intimate, 'Time Capsule', is underpinned by a mantra of, "The moment you reach out to take hold of beauty is the moment that she turns to go". Yet this is what makes the album work - the tension between the balm of the inspired melodies from Hoop's vocals and guitar work, and the troubled thoughts of her lyrics.