The Lowdown: Softly strummed chords fill the air and a voice that barely rises above a whisper emerges, singing about an ache for something missing. Absence lingers throughout Quiet Signs, the fantastic third album from folk musician Jessica Pratt, both in the spaces between each note of the guitar and piano as well as in her lyrics, subsumed in an emptiness. Without diverging significantly from the approach of her first two albums, which sounded like direct transmissions from an AM radio 40 years in the past, she pushes deeper, discovering a resonance only hinted at in her earlier work.
The Good: Forlorn but not despondent, Pratt glides through tender melodies in a delicate dance that never wavers or shakes. When she harmonizes with herself on the chorus of “Here My Love”, her voice fills every space without rising to a shout. Hypnotic and elegant, Pratt’s tunes unfold like music boxes with songs like “Crossing”, where the piano gently unwinds a childlike melody. Pratt writes about fading memory, so it’s no coincidence that the static of the recording and the sparse instrumentation evoke an earlier era. In that sense, Quiet Signs is unstuck in time, a record that could have been unearthed from any decade in modern folk music. That displacement manifests itself also through Pratt’s lyrics, especially on “This Time Around”, where the passage of time is reflected on the face of the song’s subject, weary and uncertain.
The Bad: While clearly indebted to its influences, Quiet Signs is not a record consumed with nostalgia. Pratt avoids the trappings that many of her contemporaries fall into by using a style to fit her writing rather than adhering to a template. The mood is foremost throughout the record, one that is unsettled and searching. Everything else falls second to the atmosphere, including the quixotic lyrics, penned with a literary flourish that carries a sense of remove. The overarching melancholy is clearly communicated, even if the details may take multiple attempts to parse through.
The Verdict: The experience of listening to Quiet Signs is akin to eavesdropping on the studio as Pratt plays to an empty room while a ray of light shines through a window. No sound on the brief 28-minute album is wasted, and it swirls by in a dreamlike haze so quickly that you hardly register when it finishes. Pratt astutely portrays the hole that grows during a profound loss, the questions that emerge that can’t be answered. Quiet Signs offers solace in place of definitive resolution as it drifts by, able to capture so much with so little at play.
Essential Tracks: “This Time Around”, “Here My Love”, and “Fare Thee Well”