Mexican Summer/City Slang
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“I’m prone to daydreaming,” Jessica Pratt confided to Rolling Stone late last year, and her penchant for pensiveness radiates throughout Quiet Signs, provoking listeners to follow suit. The successor to her acclaimed sophomore album On Your Own Love Again (2015), the San Francisco bred, Los Angeles based singer-songwriter-guitarist’s third LP possesses a more enveloping scope and jazz-imbued grandeur across its nine compositions, relative to its more overtly folk-driven precursor.
Pratt’s understated yet enthralling guitar-plucked melodies are still intact, but they’re now juxtaposed with an expanded palette of piano, organ and flute flourishes, all of which coalesce for hushed soundscapes that allow her distinctive, lilting voice to shine brighter than ever before. Containing echoes of Vashti Bunyan meets Trish Keenan crossed with Eartha Kitt, Pratt’s vocal inflection is arguably an acquired taste for some, but the rewards are abundant for those who do indeed acquire and embrace it. And in the same vein as, say, Elizabeth Fraser (of Cocteau Twins distinction), it can prove challenging at times to decipher Pratt’s each and every word. But this has the effect of making you concentrate ever more closely to her voice, which in turn, only serves to draw you in deeper to Quiet Signs’ nine concise, exquisitely crafted compositions.
The album commences with “Opening Night,” a plaintive piano intro courtesy of her partner Matthew McDermott and reminiscent of the opening moments of John Coltrane’s “Wise One” (from 1964’s Crescent)—your first sign that this is not a rehash of On Your Own. From here on out, Pratt’s voice takes center stage, with the contemplative lead single “This Time Around” representing the most divine of her vocal displays, as she confronts feelings of resignation, singing “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.”
Other standouts include “As the World Turns,” Pratt’s confession of unease with the state of the world, as she admits, “I know this world is turnin' / Burnin' on the wild words, can't seem to explain / More than just an outline born of fear / I won't find solace here.” “Poly Blue” is a wistful examination of the emotional depths and dimensions of a man defined by his plurality of “lovelorn colors,” which can’t be confined to a single shade of blue.
A breakup song of the most bewitching order, “Fare Thee Well” finds Pratt conceding, “I've been years on the wrong side and I / I used to see a cause and a call / Now, I know it's over now,” before proceeding to the more hopeful tones of “Here My Love,” in which she yields to the object of her affections. The ambient album closer “Aeroplane” rings familiar as Pratt explores those redemptive moments of lucidity that typically accompany a nighttime descent toward the “luminous and divine” city that awaits your arrival, as you silently take stock of what lies ahead when you touch down.
These days, with so much surrounding us that can rightfully be classified as the antithesis of beauty, it’s particularly reassuring to know that unequivocally beautiful albums like Quiet Signs exist. Listening to it on repeat, as I’ve done frequently over the past few weeks, I’m deluded into thinking that everything is right with the world once again, if only for a fleeting moment until the record’s final notes drift away, coaxing me to revisit these sublime songs again and again and again.
A terse yet utterly transcendent triumph of a third album that illuminates Ms. Pratt’s evolving songcraft, Quiet Signs, for all of its undeniable brilliance, rather remarkably augurs that her best may still be to come.
Notable Tracks: “Aeroplane” | "Fare Thee Well" | “Poly Blue” | "This Time Around"