Jessica Pratt: Quiet Signs

Jessica Pratt
Quiet Signs
(Mexican Summer)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The third album from California’s dulcet-voiced Jessica Pratt can almost be considered her first. The singer-songwriter’s 2012 debut was a cobbled together collection of demos. Its follow-up from 2015 was recorded in her bedroom, which helped the intimacy aspect but wasn’t created as a unified whole. On the third time around, nearly four years later, Pratt finally entered a professional studio in Brooklyn to lay down nine tracks that cohere as a fully realized set.

On the surface not much has changed. Pratt’s wispy, childlike and angelic voice remains as supple as ever. Her spare, gentle acoustic guitar accompaniment is tender and the lack of percussion (the closing “Aeroplane” does have skeletal tambourine) keeps the overall sound as warm and personal, as if you’re eavesdropping on Pratt as she plays for herself. It’s a hushed, delicate style that feels like it was captured in one take lounging in an incense-infused, candlelit room at 3 a.m. trying not to wake the neighbors. The disc’s title perfectly describes its extremely low key contents.

Born to be mild then, as Pratt muses about challenging relationships on “Silent Song” (“Fade to one, he’s all I desire/ And so’s begun, to mourning after”) and “Here My Love” (“He’s sincerely worn this heart of mine/ But he’s not really gone, he’s in my mind”). A slight Brazilian/ samba energizes “Poly Blue” but generally this is dreamy, late night music to reflect with. Pratt’s lovely, some might say fragile, voice is so subtle and often ghostly, you’ll need to refer to the lyrics to fully grasp her words. 

Not surprisingly, these songs float rather than soar as hints of organ, piano, and synthesizer augment the sparse sound without jarring the listener, lulled into Pratt’s ever so elusive world. Some selections like the solo “Last Time Around” are built around a few strummed chords that remain evocative in their ultra-simplicity. Still, if some additional thought were put into bolstering the overall vibe, just a little, it would help tether some of these tunes that tend to drift. And at under 30 minutes, (the first track, appropriately titled “Opening Night,” is a brief instrumental introduction), the album is short, something that’s particularly noticeable because it’s been so long since the previous one.

Kudos to Pratt and producer/keyboardist/assistant Al Carlson for sticking with a clearly non-commercial sound where her quiet, comforting talent is as alluring and elusive as the fluttering of butterfly wings.