If you came across a Jessica Pratt vinyl in a used record score, you would be excused for believing that you had unearthed a forgotten gem of 60s folk. Quietly picked acoustic guitars, layers of soft nasally vocals, the hiss of analogue recording techniques, an edge of psychedelia, all doused with warm reverb, means that Pratt’s sound sits comfortably alongside the likes of Vashti Bunyan, Linda Perhacs, and Joni Mitchell. The unanimously positive reviews of the 28 year old San Franciscan’s eponymous 2012 debut, which inevitably picked up on these comparisons and applauded her for her sensitive and sincere revivalism of 60s folk, were vehemently rejected by Pratt. She refused to be “pigeon-holed into a semi-trendy genre”. Consequently, to prove she wasn’t such a “basic bitch” (her words) Pratt set out to develop her own sound on this release.
After a difficult breakup and the death of her mother, Pratt moved from San Francisco, where she had lived for over a decade, to Los Angeles, where over a period of two months she wrote, recorded, and produced these tracks in near isolation. While the resulting album cannot escape the comparisons to psych-folk made with her first release, it is not as if Pratt is settling for unoriginality or attempting to revive a certain sound for the sake of it. The quiet yet surreal vintage quality suitably compliments the introspective and lonely nature of the lyrics and themes. Due to the home-recorded nature of the album, the lo-fi-ness is even more evident than on her first. Lo-fi recording techniques seem to be increasingly popular nowadays with indie rock and pop bands, often to cover up poor song-writing or boring instrumentation. But with Pratt, the drabs of vinyl hiss and waves of reverb seem completely appropriate in conjunction with her lonely, quietly understated, yet poetic lyrics. One lyric that particularly stuck with me was the first line of the chorus in I’ve Got A Feeling, with its sense of wry resignation and acceptance of insignificance: “Well, here I am, another thousandth sister to the night”.
Where Pratt certainly has developed is with her instrumentation. While she has not drifted massively from the acoustic guitar and vocals of her first LP, the introduction of synths to the mix is noticeable on first track, Wrong Hand. The second track, Game That I Play, brings in some strummed electric guitar and even some percussion. Where her first album was probably most lacking was the over-simplicity and unchanging finger-picked guitar style. On Your Own Love Again develops this to great effect, with the guitars not only accompanying Pratt’s voice, but also adding counter-melodies and melodic themes of their own, particularly evident on the album’s title track.
The depth of the instrumentation is nevertheless beautifully subtle, only really apparent on repeat listens, with the overall sound remaining paradoxically sparse: the extra instruments cast their spell without boasting their presence. This is shown best on what is perhaps my favourite track, I’ve Got A Feeling. Pratt’s mysterious vocal melody is accompanied by a beautifully dissonant picked guitar, a simple keyboard line nestled at the back of the mix, and an echoey choir of Pratt’s layered voice for texture. While her voice is not particularly versatile in range or volume, her careful annunciation and finely balanced tone of sweetness and dark mysteriousness which paradoxically sounds both child-like and aged, makes it immediately recognisable and appealing.
On Your Own Love Again was initially due for Autumn, but the eventual Winter release seems far more apt. This album is the aural equivalent of wearing a thick knit thrift shop jumper and drinking your fifth cup of tea when the days are short and cold. You’re feeling sorry for yourself, but secretly quite enjoying it.