Jessica Pratt’s self-titled debut album is culled from five years of songwriting, but for most, Pratt arrived at the same time as Hurricane Sandy with blog posts in all corners of the internet for her song, “Night Faces”. Unlike the storm, the tune did not force its will on the music community and the lasting effect of Pratt’s arrival will likely be small, but the attention is a best-case scenario for such an artist; one who creates personal and unassuming work that lacks both commercial appeal and much connection to current trends. Regardless, many noted publications heard “Night Faces” and felt the need to share, and a similar reaction from White Fence’s Tim Presely resulted in the creation of Birth Records, a label for which Pratt’s album is the inaugural offering.
Information about Pratt prior to October is sparse, but some investigating paints the picture of a struggling songwriter earning fans one at a time. Her Last.fm profile was written in 2009, her Myspace contains songs posted back in 2006, and her name occasionally pops up with praise on the personal blogs of random San Francisco music fans. But, it’s Pratt’s album that holds all the catching up we need, and the lasting effect of this 11-song collection is of curiosity as to where she will take her confident and comfortable sound.
The touchstones of the collection are worn on Pratt’s sleeve, with nods to 60’s folk, California classic rock, and the early 2000’s freak folk that thrived in her current hometown. And while the songs were not written with each other in mind, the album unfolds like a progression, with Pratt gradually displaying her lyrical and musical range without straying from a palette of picked acoustic guitar and raw, bending vocals. This structure ultimately plays out like a drama, with each successive song holding more weight and leading to the relatively climactic “Titles Under Pressure”, where cleaner recording and a direct melody allow Pratt to reach a personal height in warmth and beauty. She even provides a dénouement with “Dreams”, which returns to the low fidelity recording that opened the collection on “Night Faces”, but now with another singer in tow, hinting that Pratt may be ready to step back in order to step forward.
For now, Pratt has provided for herself a successful introduction to the world, where her unpredictable melodies and vocal tics proudly display strengths and weaknesses with unwavering confidence, reminding of the potential contained in minimal production and instrumentation, and that music does not need to be shattering windows in order be affecting.
Essential Tracks: “Titles Under Pressure”, “Midnight Wheels”