Think of the clouded chimeric backing vocals on Tim Buckley’s ‘Morning Glory’, probably the most perfect song ever sung; the languorous shimmer of the vibes riding the static tape hiss on Lee Hazlewood’s ‘My Autumn’s Done Come’; the swooshing “doo-bop sh-bop” on The Flamingos’ ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, whose multi-layered production came to Terry ‘Buzzy’ Johnson in a dream – maybe the best dream ever dreamt; the snaking spectral organ of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Stories Of The Street’; the jarring off-notes of ‘Coconut Grove’ by The Lovin’ Spoonful; the rippling tremolo and twinkling autoharp elevating The Electric Prunes’ ‘Onie’ well beyond its mawkish lyric; the way flute, harp and strings on Laura Nyro’s ‘You Don’t Love Me When I Cry’ corporealize what otherwise is only the vaguest whisper. There is something miraculous about those arrangements, each demonstrating how new worlds can crack open via a slow twist of the dial, a flick of the wrist, an accidentally recalibrated guitar tuning.
Jessica Pratt is someone who understands this completely. Weaned from an early age on the music of Tim Buckley, you can be sure she knows most if not all of the records I’ve mentioned above. While she has consistently refused to discuss her lyrics (by turns perhaps too personal / abstract), and has remained equally determined to avoid the labels (freak-folk, neo-psych, blah blah blah), so recklessly flung in her direction, the end result has been merely to augment the music’s magical spell. Conceived during a time of self-imposed isolation in Los Angeles, Pratt’s third album Quiet Signs is more than simply an antiquarian homage to the classic albums and to vintage recording methods. It has such deftness of touch that it can transport one to curiously intimate spaces and places, more specifically the dusky blue and peach light of late September evenings, as if suddenly I’m watching – from a height – the shadows of cyclists elasticize before the sinking sun, with the wind picking up as Autumn tightens its grip. It’s the sort of record that induces one to let an hour dissolve gazing spellbound at the sway of trees hugging the sky – time won back from life’s entanglements. But it also sounds equally at home when played by candlelight in the darkness of the small hours. Its immersive minimalism allows for that variety of experience.
Best listened to alone in a single sitting – at 28 minutes that shouldn’t be too difficult – in places Quiet Signs might recall peak Mazzy Star or sound like some old bossa nova tunes slowed down to a snail’s pace, but that would be lending it a casual ear, and to speak further of its treasures would be to break the album’s ineffable spell. Give it your attention and it will remind you of some of the other songs I’ve mentioned, and it might even take you to the places you love most of all. (JJ)