Music review: Less is more on Quiet Signs

Singer Jessica Pratt unfurls the slow-burning magic of her third album in only 28 minutes.
Singer Jessica Pratt unfurls the slow-burning magic of her third album in only 28 minutes.PHOTOS: MEXICAN SUMMER

Spring cleaning done, you stare at the Everest of discarded clothes and wonder: Does this spark joy or kill joy instead? This conundrum, thankfully, does not apply to the richly minimalist music of Jessica Pratt.

The San Francisco-born, Los Angeles-based singer believes less is more - her third album, Quiet Signs, unfurls its slow-burning magic over nine tracks in only 28 minutes. Yet, the more time spent with it, the more one is spellbound.

In her confidently unharried style, one espies the influence of forebears such as Joni Mitchell and Sibylle Baier and, in its conspiratorial hush, someone like Janis Ian too.

This cool crispness is foiled by her child-like (some might say witchy) soprano, not as tremulous as Josephine Foster's or outlandish as Joanna Newsom's, but something more elusive and shyer and, therefore, eerier.

Miked low and woven into chamber-pop reverie, it can even sound muffled, distant.

At times, it is suspended, drifting with the dips and swells of woodwinds into an alternate Arcadia or purgatory, or both.

Crossing begins innocently enough as a bucolic ballad. "I've been singing along to try/To sing along," she sings over buttery, seamless strums, before the ominous addendum changes the mood entirely: "And you stole my singing/And you say that you ought to be strong/poison all."

The effect is dream-like, as if words as well as their attendant meanings are being recontextualised by the beseeching, circular melody.

  • INDIE FOLK


  • QUIET SIGNS

    Jessica Pratt 

    Mexican Summer

    4 Stars

The same peripatetic urge propels Fare Thee Well, ostensibly a goodbye letter to someone beloved, a paramour or a listener. "We come to tell the story's end along in the wind/I've been keeping up again," she confesses, as a flute winds through the subtly evolving tune, buffered by the guitar and organ.

"A seabird laughs alone in the dark," comes a singer in a narrative imperilled by decoys and red herrings. "I've been years on the wrong side/And I used to see a cause and a call," she confesses in the chorus.

She finds solace in a jazzier, more soulful nocturne.

In This Time Around, a lonesome horn keens in the background as she opens up about the ghosts that haunt: "This time round/Has it gone grey that my faith can't hold out?" Her voice rings out in the cavernous night buttressed by simple acoustic strums.

Pratt plays off soft against hard as she navigates emotional pitfalls, gleaning light in darkness and vice versa.

In Silent Song, she addresses an unrequited love: "I long to stay with you/Or did I belong to my song? Here I'll wonder, soldier on."

Her voice, unexpectedly, drops a notch, sounding almost brusque - and the listener is jolted out of his lull.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2019, with the headline 'Less is more on Quiet Signs'. Print Edition | Subscribe