PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Jessica Pratt's 'Quiet Signs' Is a Staggering Work of Hushed Beauty

Photo courtesy of Mexican Summer

Emptiness, according to Jessica Pratt, is an opportunity to find meaning. As a result, Quiet Signs builds strength as it galvanizes simplicity.

Quiet Signs
Jessica Pratt

Mexican Summer

8 February 2019

Jessica Pratt is as formidable as she is taciturn on Quiet Signs. Following the acclaimed release of On Your Own Love Again (2015), the LA-based folk artist reestablishes herself as an evocative singer-songwriter. Teasing out musical abundance from simple instrumentation, lyrics, and vocals, Pratt concertizes complexity and nuance. Quiet Signs is a staggering work of hushed beauty.

Quiet Signs is methodical in its musical evolution and deliberate in its torpidness. The album begins with "Opening Night", a spartan piano only accentuated by Pratt's distanced vocal line. The track's title is derived from John Cassavetes' 1977 film of the same name. An apt subtext, as the character Myrtle Gordon endures the trepidation associated with aging and releasing her art to the public. The latter a likely an anxiety shared by Pratt. The fear of time's continuity permeates the subsequent "As the World Turns". Pratt, much as Gordon, contemplates fragility and temporalities when life is "Drawn in sand / and on and on." "Opening Night's" piano's bass chords re-emerge but are picked up by Pratt's guitar reestablishing the overlap between tracks. Especially empowering are her non-lexical vocables serving as onomatopoeic references to the previously heard piano.

Much as the instrumentation, the lyrics throughout Quiet Signs reveal Pratt's ability to conjure magic out of simplicity. "Fare Thee Well" lyrically encapsulates Pratt's use of silence to create musical space akin to "her delight, a quiet in the din". Accordingly, Pratt demonstrates the longevity of a memory of a bygone love in "Here My Love" using only a few words. For Pratt, love's impact is permanent after "he's sincerely worn this heart of mine / But he's not really gone, he's in my mind." Without question, Pratt's album is made whole by its musical austerity.

Pratt displays more steadfastness and courage on Quiet Signs than on previous albums. On "This Time Around" Pratt expresses her discontent with regret when she sings "all upon her face were the lost and strange years". As the lyrics progress, Pratt's confidence in her agency and ability to withstand pressure become the center point: "I don't wanna try no longer, your songbird singing the darkest hour of the night / I don't wanna find that I've been marching under the crueler side of the fight." Yet, her resolution is not absolute. Despite the defined fortitude, she expresses vulnerability and affectivity when she realizes strength "makes me want to cry". Since the track only features Pratt on guitar and vocals, this forces the listener to focus on the lyrics. Audiences are then sharing and experiencing Pratt's standpoint without influencing her perspective. In that way, she remains in control while the audience becomes secondary. More so, to listen in on Pratt's ruminations create a feeling of intrusiveness: as if the audience is encroaching on a revelatory moment. Hence, Quiet Sense is clandestine in its contemplation.

Pratt masterfully exhibits an inviting atmosphere throughout Quiet Signs. For instance, "Crossing" closes with Pratt's vocals and instrumentation meeting only to fade out. This creates an indelible sense of standing in a windswept green field so vast it seems untraversable. Likewise, "Poly Blue" is a gentle daydream made relatable as "some folks felt like this before, illusions". The inclusion of the flute contrasts to the piano creating a finespun loll that is both chimeric and clear. Later, Pratt centralizes her vocals on "Silent Song" to construct a haunting portrait. She is at once menacing and comic when she reflects, "I longed to stay with you / Or did I belong to my song/ Here I'll wonder, soldier on…" By ending with "soldier on" she relieves the song's weight while becoming flippant. In doing so, she gives the track room to breathe while avoiding over-encumbrance.

"Aeroplane" is arguably Quiet Signs' standout track. An organ doses the song in psychedelia while the single cymbal crash contrasts with Pratt's honeyed vocals. She describes peering out a tiny plane's window overlooking a cityscape. At this point, she begins to understand a greater perspective. Seemingly, Pratt is expressing the process of personal growth and change: simply put, when "There's something close behind / Far away I see myself / And it's come today." Here, self-awareness is paramount.

Emptiness, according to Jessica Pratt, is an opportunity to find meaning. As a result, Quiet Signs builds strength as it galvanizes simplicity.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.