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Review: Jessica Pratt Conjures an Uneasy Dream Space on ‘Quiet Signs’

California singer-songwriter’s third LP is full of hazily gorgeous songs with dark shadows

Jessica Pratt

Jessica Pratt

Guillaume Belvez

Singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt hails from California — both Southern and Northern — and her first LP pegged her as one part late-Sixties Laurel Canyon, one part early 2000s freak folk. Her style blossomed on her 2015 follow-up, On Your Own Love Again, with stranger melodies (one song is even called “Strange Melody”) and spacier arrangements. Quiet Signs, her third LP, expands her sound still further. “Opening Night” begins with a piano incantation, idly conjuring Satie’s Gymnopédies and Gershwin’s “Summertime.” It segueways into “As The World Turns,” echoing the same chords, but plucked and strummed on her hushed trademark nylon string guitar — tentatively, like she’s recalling a dream. With lyrics sung in her trembling elfin warble, the song sits with an abstracted uneasiness; “an outline born of fear” is rhymed with “I won’t find solace here.” Yet the effect is nothing if not solacing: buoyed by reverb, lapsing from language into humming, creating a sacred space, paradoxically, to ponder anxiety in peace.

Quiet Signs paints its hazy emotional landscapes with a perpetual sense that bad things are on the horizon, but with a quietly heroic determination to keep them at bay. “Try to keep my worries safe from where they’ll do you harm,” she sings on “Here My Love,” adding “but I can’t be sure.” Flutes, organs and synthesizers color music that feels rooted less in the folk revival than in early Sixties film themes and bossa nova; sometimes the vibe also recalls English eccentrics like Nick Drake and Robin Williamson’s Incredible String Band (as a young musician, Pratt had confessed to being “obsessed” with the latter).

The record’s nine songs clock in at just 28 minutes total, which feels just right, the samey-ness among songs playing as a strength, conjuring a mood and maintaining it, yet never feeling predictable, in part because it’s hard to get a bead on precisely what each song is about. You might play the set on repeat, in hopes of getting to the bottom of it. Yet it never quite reveals itself. And when Pratt sings “The halfway blues hang on/ Sure enough a sorry angel/ Hurrying a song on her way,” on “This Time Around,” you can imagine her as that strange angel, channeling halfway blues into a shared magic.

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