Fine second helping by an ageless voice…
That Jessica Pratt is releasing music at all feels like an accident of fate. A few years back, wholly by coincidence, she was living in the same house as Sean Paul Presley, brother of Tim Presley of San Francisco psych revivalists White Fence. It was there, in their shared kitchen, where she first came across, and fell for White Fence’s music. But it wasn’t until Pratt’s boyfriend played Presley a few of her four-track recordings – intimate voice and guitar pieces, made merely for curiosity and play – that she ever considered they might even be releasable. Presley was smitten, and founded a label, Birth Records, just to put these strange, beautiful songs out into the world. “I never wanted to ever start a record label,” he wrote. “Ever. But there is something about her voice I couldn’t let go of.”
A couple of years on from the release of Jessica Pratt, and many would count themselves similarly enchanted. Pratt’s voice is indeed something special – a curled, spry thing that, like that of Joanna Newsom, feels oddly ageless, somewhere between childlike and crone-like. But whereas Newsom is by nature a belter, Pratt’s songs have a close intimacy, nearer to a Vashti Bunyan or Sibylle Baier. It lends her music an odd, otherworldly feel, leaving the impression that she’s too delicate for this world, or floats a couple of inches off the ground.
As a mark of the warm reception afforded to her debut, its follow-up comes to us on a rather more established imprint, Drag City. But while On Your Own Love Again finds Pratt writing with an audience in mind for the very first time, there’s no drastic overhaul. Arrangements are slightly more involved, with subtle guitar layering, and collaborator Will Canzoneri adding organ to “Wrong Hand” and clavinet to “Moon Dude”. The fidelity is much the same – on four-track, to analogue tape – although it feels not so much an affectation as crucial to the whole enterprise, a way of best capturing her voice’s queer grain.
As well as a distinctive singer, Pratt is a talented songwriter. “Wrong Hand” is a tranquil thing guided by Leonard Cohen-like chord changes that subtly shift the song’s shade from light to dark. “Moon Dude” is a dreamy reverie in the vein of Nick Drake’s “Hazey Jane I”, addressed to some out-there dude who can’t or won’t come back down to earth. Her command of language is poetic. “People’s faces blend together/Like a watercolour you can’t remember,” she purrs on “Game That I Play”.
“I’ve Got A Feeling”, meanwhile, commences circling on some forbidden, Satanic chord that recalls the dissonant tunings of Jandek, before Pratt’s multi-tracked voice sweeps in to bathe everything in warmth. It’s a love song, but pensive, uneasy: “Well here I am/Another thousandth sister to the night/And mouthing tricks into my ears/The cigarette you light.”
Loneliness and distance are recurring themes: a tale of severed friendship on “Jacquelyn In The Background”, the line of girls left “empty handed” on the title track. But Pratt’s music isn’t bereft, exactly: rather, there’s the feeling that she thrives off of solitude, the measured, steady fingerpicking of “Strange Melody” and “Greycedes” weaving a cocoon to keep the world out.
Perhaps for this reason, right now it’s hard to imagine her hitching these peculiar, private songs to a band, a la Marissa Nadler or Angel Olsen. But maybe these are unhelpful points of comparison. In interview, Pratt has expressed admiration for Ariel Pink, another artist whose music is rooted in a home-recorded, four-track sensibility. On Your Own Love Again’s analogue genesis is alluded to midway through “Jacquelyn In The Background”, where Pratt’s voice slows and slurs, and the guitar slides out of tune, as if being played on a turntable that might be just about to give up the ghost. It gives you a little jolt – the musical equivalent, perhaps, of an actor breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience.
Used here, it feels like a sort of acknowledgement that these are new songs that sound like the old songs, the kind you might treasure till your vinyl is pockmarked and warped. That you can easily imagine playing On Your Own Love Again to death in precisely this way should be taken as the highest of compliments.
How did it feel when people turned out to like Jessica Pratt? Nice? Weird?
The whole thing was quite surreal. Tim [Presley] sort of just materialised out of thin air like Glenda the Good Witch, ready to put it out, so when it was well-received by an audience, it was just another layer of pleasant strangeness.
So presumably this time, you had to think in terms of a body of work for the first time…
“It’s definitely the first time I’ve approached songwriting with the idea of some collective whole in mind. It’s a very different state of mind, creating things for a tangible audience versus habitual idea spewage for your own private pleasure or sanity maintenance. Having an intended purpose has leant me confidence and made me a bit more self-aware, in good and bad ways. It’s important to keep the dream gauze fixed tightly to your head.”
There’s a lot of loneliness on the record – the “lonely boy” on Greycedes, the Moon Dude in outer space, “you’re just a lonely ride: on “You’ve Got A Feeling”. Any thoughts on why these sorts of lyrics recur?
“I think the way that songs utilise the mind’s own lexicon of symbols and imagery is very similar to the processing of those things in dreams, in the way that themes will reappear until you’ve dealt with them, or move on to more relevant ones. I think it’s easy to imagine the sort of scenario responsible for the content of these songs. A majority of the record functions like an altar of trinkets, constructed for a frosty and unreachable muse.”
INTERVIEW: LOUIS PATTISON
Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again
Fine second helping by an ageless voice...
Fine second helping by an ageless voice…