By some accounts (including the artist's own), Pratt's music going unheard seemed like a real possibility. "By the time I was actually writing anything resembling songs and recording them crudely in my bedroom, I didn't consider music as a possible profession at all," says the artist, who recently relocated from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Even among friends, Pratt's musicianship seemed like something of a secret. "She rarely played her music in front of us, but I would always listen to her practice up in our bathroom," remembers friend and former roommate Moses Rios. "I would lay in my room, listening to her play up there, sounding so ghostly through the stairwell."
The initial pressing of Jessica Pratt's debut sold out almost immediately and drew a cult following for its distinct sound, a fully-formed collection of sparse, crystalline folk songs that sound genuinely timeless rather than simply retro. Wielding her high, scruffy voice and nylon-string guitar, Pratt can collapse styles and decades unlike any other artist.
Her 2015 track, "Strange Melody" exemplifies this. A psychic excavation of a failing relationship, Pratt summoned the spirit of Leonard Cohen in her searing fingerpicked guitar while interpolating Duran Duran’s "Hungry Like the Wolf" in the song’s refrain—a strange little melody that seems to try to rise and break free from Pratt’s song.
Quiet Signs builds on these stylistic strides with the inclusion of new instruments, adding gorgeous and thrilling layers to her sound. The sun-kissed warmth of Pratt’s guitar explodes into a flurry of cherub-like flutes on "Poly Blue." Meanwhile, the melancholic synth that accents "This Time Around" feels like a sympathetic hand on a crumpled shoulder.
For a musician that so often sings in the first person, the "I" in Pratt’s lyrics never asserts itself over her listeners. The generosity of Pratt’s music lies in its obscurity, in the rich language and gorgeously simple musical architecture she crafts for her audience to hang their imaginations upon. Part of what makes Pratt such an evocative songwriter is the way that she conjures ideas and leaves them to trace their own paths through her listener's minds, picking up new resonance and associations over time.
"Often when I'm writing, words or lyrics come half-formed, or sometimes completely unformed beyond a phonetic shape," Pratt says of the track "Crossing," which embodies this generosity to a T. Taking its cue from the deeply emotional, wordless songs on the album Young Prayer by Panda Bear, "Crossing" is a feat of melody and feeling. Glowing in reverb over a simple but evocative guitar, Pratt's voice soars and then falls into hope and despair, leaping beyond the static meaning in words.
It's in moments like this that Pratt’s music takes on a psychedelic quality, opening up a window when the doors of possibility seem hopelessly shut. In this way, the cover with the lone, self-possessed woman is deceptive.
In addition to taking on collaborators, Pratt recorded Quiet Signs in the wake of meeting her partner. For the generosity of her solo work, Pratt reveals the only thing more vast than looking deep within one's heart is sharing it with another person.