“On Your Own Love Again” by Jessica Pratt [Album Review]0
Folk has been a surprisingly successful genre in recent years, with pop-oriented artists like Vance Joy and Mumford & Sons finding mainstream success. Still, unadorned folk music remains relatively niche. If the indie music press is looking for a genuinely talented, genuinely folk-y singer-songwriter to love, though, they have found it with Jessica Pratt. Pratt, 27, is a San Francisco native who released her first record in 2012 with the support of White Fence-rocker Tim Presley. In January, she released her second album “On Your Own Love Again” on the Drag City label.
“On Your Own Love Again” is 9 songs long, spanning 32 minutes. The short length makes the album easily digestible. Pratt sings and plays guitar on every song. Most of them use her skillful fingerpicking as their rhythmic and tonal foundation.
The basic instrumentation is brought to life by the album’s production. Pratt recorded “On Your Own Love Again” with a Tascam 4-track recorder. The roughness of the recording makes each guitar note snap. Pratt uses additional instrumentation to add depth to each song. On many of them, she records her own vocal harmonies. “Wrong Hand” features a lilting, woodwind-like keyboard throughout. “Moon Dude” adds a metallic keyboard part that Pratt describes as “mall-like”. As a whole, the album’s production feels economical and sturdy, and the complementary parts make each song distinct. I think the 4-track was a good choice.
Pratt’s singing is the most conspicuous element of her music. In contrast to her guitar-playing, her vocals are mysterious and almost mystical. She sings with a high-pitched coo. Honestly, it sounds pitch-shifted. (She knows this; “Jacquelyn In The Background” features a freaky sonic double-take you should hear.) One downside of her vocal weirdness is that some of her songs may lack the emotional connection that more traditional singing would import. The album’s lyrics mostly consist of sparse observations. However, the actual words she sings tend to lose my attention. The chorus of “Moon Dude” is an exception, with the catchy line “You’re on the outside / You’re looking in / At the escalators humming / They are pulling you from nothing / But your own loneliness”. The most emotionally direct song is the title track. It is found at the end of the album, and its clear lyrics refocus my attention. “I try to believe / In you somehow / But every time I do / I get down and out.”
Pratt is an impressive songwriter; her songs never feel predictable. My favorite songs on this album are original and feature memorable hooks. “Game That I Play” is composed of a few different sections that cycle around for its first 4 minutes. Then, with about a minute left, the song jumps into a completely different, Ariel Pink-ish groove with fun percussion. With only 20 seconds left, it speeds up, she plays some chords, and the song ends. “I’ve Got A Feeling” features vibrant backing vocals and a vibraphone part. It pleasantly drifts around until it reaches its elating chorus, which completely pulls me in. As the song fades, what sound like street noises are heard in the background (as if Pratt is recording on the sill of the window found on the album’s beautiful cover).
Because of the haziness of “On Your Own Love Again”, people may prefer to listen to it in the background. It might be most enjoyable, say, as you spend your night looking at apartments on Zillow. On the other hand, the album’s great guitar-work, diverse accompaniments, and clever songwriting make active listening worth it. Pratt seems confident in her musical foundation, and I suspect she will continue experimenting with intriguing ideas in the future. If you are looking for a new folk artist to follow, Jessica Pratt might be your best bet.
– Joe Ortigara