Music Reviews
Quiet Signs

Jessica Pratt Quiet Signs

(Mexican Summer) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Jessica Pratt's trajectory as a folk artist exists in a timeless state. Taking inspiration from seventies artists like Vashti Bunyan and Sibylle Baier, the LA-based singer-songwriter's somber acoustic songs evoke large emotional gestures that resonate in small settings. It's an achievement in itself that Pratt has managed to achieve a consistency that is rare among her past peers, many of which chose to pursue quiet, modest lives rather than follow the shallow trappings of fame.

There is nothing especially groundbreaking about Quiet Signs at first glance - Pratt performs each of these ten tracks as if enclosed in a dim lit room. The mood is calm and serene, where Pratt's disquieting thoughts vanish with every passing moment. She makes the subtlest chord changes with skillful ease, focused on externalizing her lamenting thoughts with a distinct quiver in her voice. But her elegant poise is what's especially moving, always in pursuit of these little nuances that give her three minutes songs a fuller, yet still imperfect treatment.

But that's not to say that Pratt has succumbed to habits - for Signs, she discarded the homespun recording process of her 2012 self-titled debut and 2015's On Your Love Again in favor of a professional studio. Despite her apprehensions, Pratt's fingerpicked guitar patterns now achieve a newfound clarity that was previously obstructed by the same reel to reel tape techniques Baier used for her sole album Colour Green. Thankfully, Pratt pursues new ways to further her arrangements rather than fall into any myths related to failed or undiscovered singer-songwriters meant for cult adoration.

In Signs, Pratt is fully committed to pursuing a career even if she does it on her terms. Nevertheless, there's still a classic approach to Pratt's songwriting that is akin to that of buying musty-smelling vinyl at a secondhand vinyl shop. From the arpeggiated passages of Poly Blue to the distant, yet harmonic melancholy of Crossing, Pratt continues to emulate the intricate incandescence of British pastoral folk. Earthy in character, yet with a cosmic touch, her reverbed chord structures are as isolated as the heartbreak that permeates in her cryptic imagery.

Even if not immediately noticeable, Pratt has significantly slowed down her guitar work in an attempt to push her inquisitive intonations to the forefront. She's extending her reach as a storyteller, a missing link that has been missing, or, perhaps, clouded by her unique vocal phrasing. The deliberate strums of Fare Thee Well allow Pratt to fill in the empty spaces in between, musing on the absence of a relationship that was once a revolving door of deeply felt, yet damaged occurrences. She tends to withhold information, but at the same time, reveals just enough to spark one's literary intuition.

Pratt's more placid demeanor also allows her to color different shades of instrumentation into her sparse compositions. On Here My Love, she adds a smoky, loungy piano accompaniment that gives a sense of comfort to her bittersweet reminiscence. There's also a spiritual resemblance to the jazzy inflections of Nick Drake on Fare Thee Well, where a sprightly-sounding flute adorns the track's otherwise dainty use of lysergic ambiance. But simplicity is still the order of the day, like in the aptly titled SIlent Song, even if her stark guitar playing has shifted to the guitar stylings of musicians like Joan Baez and nova trova legend Silvio Rodriguez; it's surprising to see how she steps away from the psychedelic influences of her past work.

Whereas Pratt once settled on a colder and more reserved state, Quiet Signs manages to present a more empathetic side of her that was once concealed. It's still quaint by comparison, though, a delicately-crafted acoustic set that offers insight into her deepest fears and truths without letting us encroach into her private space.