Quiet Signs is only 27 minutes long, but it’s the sort of truly devastating album that it’s all too easy to find yourself lost in. Jessica Pratt’s distinctive, otherworldly voice, like something out of a dusky fantasy, can transport you to another place in just a handful of notes. The Los Angeles singer-songwriter’s first album recorded in a professional studio – her third overall – still carries over much of the DIY charm of her earlier efforts. Shrouded in the trippy haze of the 1960s folk scene, Pratt continues to find strength in simplicity.
Gradually and methodically expanding its sound, Quiet Signs begins at its most sparse, slowly blossoming into a bountiful and commanding torrent of sound. The chilling, instrumental piano exploration ”Opening Night” (borrowing its title from the 1977 John Cassavetes film) kicks off the hushed majestic journey with an entrancing meditation on the shifting tides of emotion. It is the following track, the muted,echoing acoustic guitar flourishes of ”As the World Turns,” where we first experience Jessica Pratt’s mystic, childlike wail, as we drift into a melodic dreamscape. By the time we reach the seductive and cosmic “Fare Thee Well,” it’s as though we’ve stumbled upon some forgotten corner of French New Wave cinema.
With ”Here My Love,” Pratt picks up both the tone and the tempo, in a swirling ascension into a glowing world of optimism and endless possibility, even in its staunch anxiety. The staggering ecosystem perks up, giving way to buoyant tracks like ”Poly Blue,” the album’s jazzy, flowing centerpiece, and ”This Time Around,” a foggy, minimalist pop daydream. Even as the lyrics take a turn towards melancholy (“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”), Pratt’s sedative inflection and meager instrumentation continue to sooth and inspire.
Of course, Quiet Signs is dominated by its visceral atmosphere. Whether it’s the faded harmony of eerie chamber piece ”Crossing” or the dark humor of reassuring and hypnotic ”Silent Song” (“I longed to stay with you / Or did I belong to my song? / Here I’ll wonder, soldier on”), Jessica Pratt is fascinated by her own ability to create vivid scenery, ensuring that the final product is an immersive sensory experience. As we reach the hopeful and psychedelic ”Aeroplane,” Pratt is taking a long hard look at the world around her and recounting in great detail all of life’s seemingly trivial eccentricities: “Reflection of your memory in the window / And beneath the plane, city lights are a-twinklin’ / And you wear them for a crown, over the neon, how / Soft, my morning comes, oh, when they lose their glow.”
Among its vulnerable anecdotes and understated reveries, Quiet Signs is able to make sense of the trials and triumphs of everyday existence. Time and time again, Jessica Pratt proves the enveloping radiance of minimalism, getting under her listeners’ skin with deceptively intricate tales of love and loss. Whereas most albums serve as background noise for other tasks, Quiet Signs is an undertaking unto itself. It demands a tremendous amount of its audience, but it returns the investment in abundance.