Music

Jessica Pratt: Jessica Pratt

Jessica Pratt's debut album works with the tropes of Laurel Canyon folk.


Jessica Pratt

Jessica Pratt

Label: Birth
US Release Date: 2013-05-14
UK Release Date: 2013-05-20
Amazon
iTunes

Jessica Pratt is wary of being pigeonholed. She’s cautious about her connection to the current music scene in San Francisco, where she lives. San Fran groups like Thee Oh Sees, the Fresh and Onlys, and Sonny and the Sunsets have been glorying in the sounds of the '60s -- pop, folk, rock, psych -- for years now, and Pratt’s aesthetic, though sparer and lonelier, seems of a piece with their mission to explore and mix older forms in the search of heady new combinations. But when asked about San Francisco’s music by The Fader, Pratt noted, "I think it’s a little deceptive...I don’t really feel like there’s that much new, exciting stuff happening here...that’s also part of the reason why it’s taken me so long to get going with this. I don’t really feel like there’s a competitive music scene here."

Pratt’s also hesitant to embrace the old California folk scene. She claims she’s not trying to make "purely traditional old-school folk" in the modes of early Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. Despite this, Laurel Canyon, and more specifically the work of Mitchell, looms large on Pratt’s self-titled debut album.

Jessica Pratt tells stories of both change -- "In this town, I walk by your door/ things change, I can’t see you anymore" -- and its absence, "you go the places that we’ve gone, before/ never changing," often within the same song. "Some days are long and/ Summer days are hard/ I was dragging my feet across the parking lot/ I remember sad faces in the mirror behind me," she sings to start the record. The closing track, "Dreams," brings in what sounds like it might be a male voice, hazily harmonized. "Here I am stuck here thinking about you again," sing Pratt and her partner, and then the song stops. The album goes many places, but Pratt’s still thinking as it comes to a close.

It may not be what she’s shooting for, but that early Mitchell sound -- like on Clouds, when Mitchell was working mainly in the folk vein, singing and playing alone, produced by David Crosby -- is hard to ignore on Pratt’s album. Pretty much the only sounds that appear on Jessica Pratt are Pratt and a closely-recorded acoustic guitar, picking spidery melodies and pleasing circles that form the backbone of so many post-'60s folk songs. She’s got high, twirling vocals, which tend to spiral and pirouette a graceful but irregular arc from point A to B, rather than following a straight line.

But Pratt’s her own entity. Her voice isn’t as otherworldly as Mitchell’s, or as theatrical; there’s less edge. Pratt has no interest in Mitchell’s faster tracks built with hard strumming. And Pratt’s mode of singing stays constant. Mitchell would switch her attack up as she saw fit for additional impact. Instead, Pratt adds variety to her vocals with her multi-tracked self, like on the album opener "Night Faces" (which incorporates just a touch of Mitchell’s old pal Neil Young).

Sometimes Pratt’s nervousness about being looped into a scene extends to her album’s production. Some songs are cloaked in hissing tape, and her lyrics can be difficult to make out. But she doesn’t have to worry too much. When an artist starts out, being pigeonholed may not be the worst thing in the world.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image