Music Reviews
On Your Own Love Again

Jessica Pratt On Your Own Love Again

(Drag City) Rating - 7/10

The small-scale success of Jessica Pratt’s self-titled debut album surprised no-one more than Jessica Pratt herself. It was written unselfconsciously, a project Pratt seemingly never took seriously until White Fence’s Tim Presley heard her homespun 8-track recordings and released them as-is five years later. The tape fuzz and mis-struck notes were all part of what made it so beguiling, its freedom from expectations.

Even though Pratt must have approached the writing of On Your Own Love Again with the trepidation that comes with knowing you’ll be heard, she musters the same aura of languid intimacy achieved on her debut, playing to her strengths – which means recording at home again, and it means, for instance, not bothering with any overdubs when her fingers can’t quite stretch to the frets (Strange Melody makes great use of the resultant ambiguity of the flubbed notes). At the same time, she’s surer when it comes to any additional touches – her layers of reverb are attuned to the nuances of each song rather than casting a fug over the whole record.

Still, other than occasional subtle touches and overdubs, it’s centred around Pratt’s fingerpicked guitar patterns and idiosyncratic vocals. I imagine some listeners will scorn her sometimes disingenuous pronunciations (the title of Moon Dude comes out something like “mern derd”, for instance), but something about it works – you’ve likely heard hundreds of records which sound like Jessica Pratt, but none which sound quite like her. “I can’t even troy / To read the words sometoymes”, she croons on Greycedes, as if she’s trying to curl her mouth around the words.

There are no real moments of emotional drama, because the songwriting is more about the search for feeling than the feeling itself – which goes some way to explain her reachy diction and restrained vocabulary. It’s only the record’s brief closer, the title track, which really underscores the theme of heartbreak: “Here are the lies you’ve been telling me […] I troy to believe in you somehow / And every time I do I get down and out”. In fact it’s the only track on the record that doesn’t, at some point, give way to nonsense monosyllables in lieu of lyrics – a tendency I initially read as lazy, but no, there’s more to it than that. It’s a record about the elusion of meaning, songs devolving rather than facing the truth – idle prettiness cobwebbing up the cracks. Pratt could certainly have gotten Drag City to get her into a studio, but the reason it’s homemade is because it sounds almost like you’re wandering through her house, overhearing her picking over these hauntingly half-formed songs, never really rousing herself out of the permeating lull. She makes it all the more melancholic by not telling you just how sad she is until that perfunctory closer.

There’s a moment midway through, on Jacquelyn in the Background, which I look forward to on every playthrough. For my money it’s the record’s finest track, with its wanderingly indecisive chord structure, its casual steps into different tempos, and its wallowing downclimbing melodies – until a spine-tingling moment where it’s as if Pratt’s tuning pegs simply unspool themselves mid-pattern. You can’t tell what kind of organic recording trickery this is (someone pushing a thumb down on the tape reel?) but I don’t think Pratt’s vocals have been distorted here. “If you just can’t find the words to say / I never thought of it that way” she warbles over the undulating pitches, because make no mistake, On Your Own Love Again is a record about that struggle with transmuting feeling into expression. The grand themes of the album are heavily understated but, well, that’s kind of the point.