Photo courtesy of Mexican Summer

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

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.

RATING 9 / 10