By Troy Hasselman, February 14 2019
Los Angeles singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt operates on a small scale. From her stripped down arrangements to her voice that rarely sounds above a whisper, her composition style recalls the work of golden-era folkies such as Judee Sill, Karen Dalton and Joni Mitchell.
Her third album, Quiet Signs, is characteristic of her previous work by preserving the sparse atmosphere that has become her signature sound. This album operates on a higher fidelity than her previous releases by being her first work entirely made in a professional recording studio, marking a departure from her bedroom-recording origins while still maintaining her music’s minimalist aesthetic. While the sounds of Laurel Canyon-folk are certainly a strong reference point for this album, the tracks also recall the melancholic acoustic ballads of Tropicália singers such as Arthur Verocai or the French yé-yé vocals of Françoise Hardy.
The songs are based around finger-picked acoustic guitar patterns with accompaniment occasionally coming from an organ sound, softly played piano, woodwinds or the occasional tambourine clap. The music is tethered together by Pratt’s eerily calm vocals and the haunting atmosphere that she creates with such few elements.
This atmosphere is characterized by tracks such as “This Time Around,” which is built around a simple, softly strummed chord pattern that is repeated throughout the track. Icy sounding horns lull in the background to underline this strumming pattern and accentuate the desolate sounding melody and Pratt’s lyrics which deals with themes of regret and feelings of disillusionment. As the song continues, the horn grows slightly more prominent, leading to it blossoming into a highly emotive piece.
This is the case with many of the songs on Quiet Signs, as Pratt’s acoustic arrangements are accompanied by soft instrumentation that fully explores the emotion of these songs while maintaining the aura of contemplative minimalism that characterizes her work.
Quiet Signs is a brief album, with only nine songs amounting to 28 minutes. This brief running time allows Pratt the perfect length of time to explore the modes and textures of the quiet world her music inhabits by properly exploring the ranges of textures in her compositions but doesn’t overstay its welcome. Instead, it keeps her songs concise and upfront with the tasteful use of all musical elements introduced.