Jessica Pratt On Your Own Love Again

[Drag City; 2015]

Styles: folk, singer-songwriter, 60s/70s
Others: Laura Marling, Angel Olsen, Sibylle Baier

The singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt recorded her second album On Your Own Love Again at home and unassisted on her 4-track, and it shows: the album sounds very much like the hermetic creation of a lonely individual. Pratt’s mostly-acoustic accompaniment is sparse, her lyrics private and turned inward.

On Your Own Love Again also sounds old. Pratt’s songs are bracketed by tape hiss purposefully left untrimmed. On “Jacquelyn in the Background,” the playback speed is conspicuously slower in sections, as if to suggest the erosive impact of time on the physical world — on a reel of tape, for example, or the belt of a turntable.

This time-capsule quality of On Your Own Love Again’s sound is something it shares with Pratt’s 2012 self-titled debut. Many of the songs on Jessica Pratt were recorded in 2007, without any plans for their widespread circulation. When Pratt started to garner deserved attention for her debut — released by Tim Presley’s Birth Records, which was formed specifically to put out Pratt’s music — she drew justified comparisons to Sibylle Baier, another singer-songwriter whose private recordings eventually saw commercial release. (Although in Baier’s case, the music sat unheard for more than three decades, not five years.)

Sibylle Baier remains a good touchstone when talking about On Your Own Love Again. Pratt occupies similar melodic terrain as Baier: her tunes are simple, sometimes sing-songy, often just a bit sour and strange. They invite you in but don’t let you sit too close.

Vocally, Pratt is a more theatrical singer than Baier. On some tracks, she sings with the airiness of Vashti Bunyan, on others with a heft reminiscent of Nico or the darker strains of British folk. With Greycedes,” you get the full range in just one song. Pratt also deploys odd phrasings and vocal embellishments to quirky effect, in a way not dissimilar to Joanna Newsom. (If you like any of the artists mentioned above, there is a very good chance you will like Jessica Pratt.)

On Your Own Love Again travels a similar path as Pratt’s debut, but it diverges in at least one significant way. Jessica Pratt was relatively easy to read; the lyrics may have been oblique, but the songs themselves felt emotionally clear and direct. With On Your Own Love Again — and especially in its first third — Pratt’s song structures strike me as less linear, her melodies as more guarded or coy. While many of the tracks on Jessica Pratt were single-note vignettes with one mood maintained throughout a song, tracks like “Wrong Hand” and “Strange Melody” are ambiguous studies in dark and light. As a whole, On Your Own Love Again is a somewhat murkier affair.

On “Game That I Play,” Pratt sings, “People’s faces blend together/ Like a watercolor you can’t remember/ In time.” Perhaps the most ungenerous thing I can say about On Your Own Love Again is that some of these songs — particularly in the middle of the record — have a tendency to do the same.

But Pratt is a gifted songwriter with a rich, interesting voice. Despite her clear antecedents, she comes across as genuinely original and self-assured. On Your Own Love Again may not be a uniformly strong set of songs, but judging by “Back, Baby,” “Mother Big River,” and others across Pratt’s first two albums, she clearly has them in her.

Links: Jessica Pratt - Drag City

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