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Jessica Pratt - Quiet Signs Music Album Reviews

The Los Angeles folk musician’s third album is her best yet—a collection of hushed reveries that unspool like daydreams.

Jessica Pratt spins fantasy worlds bound to bewitch, dreamscapes that spiral towards the surreal, psychedelic spirituals that nourish. Her music’s intimacy feels so organically abstract, it is as if the songs are distilled directly from her subconscious. But as her third record, Quiet Signs, reveals, any perceived effortlessness is an illusion. While Pratt’s toolbox remains minimal—her trusty fingerpicked guitar and elastic voice alongside a sprinkling of keys and woodwinds—she weaves these means more intricately than ever, with a firm and confident hand.

After her last album, 2015’s On Your Own Love Again, transformed the meditative starkness of her 2012 self-titled debut into a lonely, ornate reverie, Pratt decided to record in a proper studio for the first time. She has said the experience initially induced anxiety, as she worried that a more polished sound would come at the expense of her otherworldly haze. But instead, Quiet Signs’ crystalline production allows even the subtlest of Pratt’s musical choices to radiate.

This depth is immediately evident on “Opening Night,” a contemplative piano instrumental played by her musical and romantic partner Matthew McDermott. Pratt named the track after indie auteur John Cassavetes’ 1977 film about an aging actress who struggles to find a truthful performance. And that same ruminative mood is felt in the song’s echoing notes, which sound as if they were played to an empty, gigantic theater. The meandering of “Opening Night” reveals an essential principle of Pratt’s work, that of trusting intuition, of letting a melody wander until it finds a natural resting place.

The nine songs here follow their own innate paths, often beginning with a simple acoustic arrangement before blossoming into vivid daydreams. On “Fare Thee Well,” Pratt’s gentle strumming and a piping organ give way to a whimsical flute solo—like a bird just freed from captivity, the sprightly woodwind soars higher and higher until it dissolves into the distance. Meanwhile, Pratt’s voice winds its own course, her varied intonations imbuing each song with its own character. Memories of “stolen city sighs” on “Here My Love” swell with the lingering euphoria of infatuation. On “Silent Song” she harmonizes tenderly with herself, imparting the idea that she is never truly alone. When she sings of existential restlessness on “As the World Turns,” her vowels are so round you can trace their full orbit.

Within these acrobatics, insight into Pratt’s poetic musings remains elusive. She warps the typically direct, observational role of a singer-songwriter into something altogether more mystifying. She wraps her words in tightly woven melodies and gauzy reverb, often rendering them incomprehensible. Pratt’s obscuration sometimes sound like a means of emotional protection, as if she is draping her vulnerabilities behind a veil. Motifs that do emerge from Pratt’s cosmos swirl around notions of uncertainty, loss, disenchantment, and, on the bright side, budding romance. When a lyrical impression emerges, it floats to the surface just enough to announce its presence, but rarely offers clarity. Pratt’s method of abstraction is especially affecting because it embodies the ambiguities of the everyday: how words are not always enough.

The clearest moments on Quiet Signs are the centerpieces “Poly Blue” and “This Time Around.” “Poly Blue” is all Laurel Canyon sunshine, as Pratt observes a lover’s mystique. “He’s the undiscovered night,” she murmurs, as flutes flutter around her chords. “This Time Around,” on the other hand, captures a moment of hopelessness, of a profound uncertainty that faith might fail. As the song opens with spare strums, she keeps these fears close to the chest, but they soon begin to spill out. Suddenly, her voice deepens for a startlingly straightforward confession: “It makes me want to cry.” It’s a rare moment of perceptible pain, one that lingers on after the song has ended.

From there, Quiet Signs begins to fold into itself like a daylily facing the moonlight. While “Silent Song” exudes sentimentality, “Crossing” is private to the point of impenetrability, its curlicuing shape suggesting the mysteries of introspection. Both tracks largely do away with ornate embellishments, allowing Pratt’s meticulous plucking to shine. It’s as if she could needle away on her guitar for the rest of eternity, slowly unraveling the biggest questions, one by one.

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