When you first hear California singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt’s voice it somewhat disarms and disconcerts you. It doesn’t really fit into a particular frame of reference, it’s slightly eldritch and wavering, but captivating – so you soon become attuned to it.
The same could be said for what it’s underpinned by. Across these nine songs, there are moments of real loveliness, alongside a few slightly more forgettable ones. Things start to heat up three songs in: ‘Fare Thee Well’ begins kitschy, developing into something more forceful as organ and flute creep in, and ‘Poly Blue’ is a stand out moment. Breezy harmonies float over an intricate web as Jessica blithely intones, “There’s no other boy like him”.
‘This Time Around’, released back in October, is another boss tune - possessed of a kind of beauty that’s hard to write about without employing some cutesy metaphor or fragment that to convey exactly what it feels like, how it makes you feel. Here, it might be a woolly blanket, a warm fire or some other such hibernal paraphernalia. “It makes me want to cry”. Yep. ‘Crossing’ fits into a similar mould but sounds that bit eerier: her vocals are sometimes remain unresolved, tailing off or not leading where you’d expect…but what’s sung is fragmented, and occasionally hard to make out, too.
How these songs are sung is perhaps more important, and this is emphasised by the production. The recording process represented a change in direction: northwards, to NYC, and as the first of Jessica’s albums fully realised in a studio setting. This sometimes gives it a fuller-bodied clarity and lushness, but it still retains some of that hazy tape charm of previous efforts, as on ‘Aeroplane’, which treads a fine line between bloody-minded anachronism and timelessness.
The record’s has sometimes disarmingly simple repetitive sequences and off-beat rhythms, as on ‘Silent Song’, which bring to mind Françoise Hardy’s ‘La Question’. Its embellishments are like touch-ups to a canvas and lend it a slight chamber pop, sometimes almost exotic, bent, but primacy is given to Jessica’s voice and the subtle harmonies that stream forth, and guitar.
Interestingly, the album is decidedly retro but not dated. Pratt has previously spoken of a desire not to be pigeonholed into some “semi-trendy” genre, and her approach skirts several, some of which aren’t particularly in vogue. ‘Quiet Signs’ has been four years in the making, and it’s suitably considered and tight, coming in at under half an hour. There’s some kind of dogged focus at play, which lends it a greater sense of coherence than previous projects. It’s a quietly self-assured and immersive album that should mark out and reaffirm Pratt’s singularity.
Words: Wilf Skinner
Dig it? Dig deeper: Vashti Bunyan, Françoise Hardy, The Left Banke
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