It is hard to imagine an incredibly quiet record creating such a big noise in the music world. Sufjan Stevens' 2015 album 'Carrie & Lowell' created storms and introduced many to the delicacy of contemporary folk music, and this year, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt 'took up the torch' by releasing her third studio album Quiet Signs, which will inevitably come to signify a watershed moment in her music career, and quite possibly, define her significance as a rare musical talent in the history book of music. I first discovered Pratt two years ago when I became obsessed with the Laurel Canyon music scene and early 70s' psychedelic/freak folk movement and was listening to artists such as Vashti Bunyan, Linda Perhacs, Judee Sill and Jackson. C Frank excessively. Nothing really prepared me for Pratt's voice, which seems to simultanously carry the innocence reserved only for little girls and the seductive and sometimes destructive power of femininity, and her ability to croon like a voacl gymnast. Her singing has continuously been a selling point for me and with that voice alone, I would buy any new Jessica Pratt record without any hesitation.
Sonically, Quiet Signs is by no means a drastic departure from her two previous records. After a brief but haunting piano prologue, the album moves along with eight more songs featuring primarily Pratt's signature guitar plucking and her vocals, with the exception of occasional flute arrangements on a few tracks. For this reason alone, critics might leave comments like 'This is more boring than anything, and I just don't understand the appeal', or worse, 'Hey, it’s consistent. However, more so ‘I didn’t need to hear the same thing nine times over’ type of consistent.' They have got a point, that by and large, these songs just won't, at least not immediately, grab your attention if you accidently let your consciousness drift while listening to it.
But ironically, this is exactly what appeals to people like myself, because if you make the conscious decision to spend some time with it, it grows on you and when it does, it has the potential to reach the deepest conners of your being, leaving you being washed anew. And if you take the analytical approach to listening to this record, which I strongly recommend, you will notice that none of these tracks are standard folk tunes. When it comes to Jessica Pratt's music, complexity is always at play and her ability to write such complex, amorphous yet gorgeous melodies based on the simplest chord structures is simply phenomenal and inimitable. To this effect, Quiet Signs bestows upon us a unique listening experience akin to trying to catch something solid and familiar in the moving water; the moment you feel like you have a hold on something, the paradigm shifts playfully, leaving you feeling bemused and longing for more.
Pratt has always taken a minimalist approach to her music by using very few other instruments and sticking with the homemade and lo-fi sound. Yet, Quiet Signs was the first record she recorded in a studio and the lo-fi quality of her songs, despite still being there, has taken on a new dimension. It sounds lush and reverberated with sensual whispers rather than cheap and ill-produced. And the occasional flute and piano arrangements on songs like 'Fare Thee Well' add a delicious taste of Tropicália to what is otherwise forlorn and cold. Thus on Quiet Signs, using a dreamy and elusive approach to lyricism as a tool, Pratt plays the role of a one-woman band haunting a long abandoned hotel before disappearing into the chilly night air. Any of these songs, taken without music, would be a beautifully composed poem. In an interview with Pitchfork, Pratt admits that she writes lyrics based on subconscious imagery rather than well-formed themes; thus, the lyrics on Quiet Signs serve primarily to create an evocative ambience, adding a thick layer of mystery and enigma to Pratt's already elusive musical persona. Sentences like 'I know this world is turnin'/Burnin' on the wild words, can't seem to explain' and 'He's the undiscovered night, a parting line' are some pretty indecipherable stuff but they work so miraculously well to bring out a sense of anxiety, regret, unfulfilled desire and beauty.