Jessica Pratt‘s career began with a slight permutation on the kind of mystery and romance that so often accompanies the most fascinating and memorable singer/songwriter. She didn’t record her self-titled debut in a cabin in the dead of winter, nor did she fade into near-anonymity in the years after it was released. Rather, her first album comprised a series of demos recorded between 2007 and 2010, which were then pressed onto vinyl by White Fence’s Tim Presley on his own Birth Records, with Pratt’s youthful yet obscured black-and-white face on the cover. It sells out of its first pressing in what seems like record time for a record that, when it was recorded, wasn’t intended for public consumption. And before Pratt even has the chance to tour behind it, she’s become a new face of folk music, mentioned in the same breath as Joan Baez, “freak-folk,” and any number of San Francisco psych- and garage-rock luminaries of the past decade.
The Jessica Pratt of second album On Your Own Love Again isn’t the same artist on that beautifully raw first record — not exactly. That Jessica Pratt was closer to her teens than her thirties, and a lot has happened since she first clicked “record” on her Tascam. She’s relocated from San Francisco to Los Angeles, signed with Drag City — home to a number of other great American singer/songwriters — and underwent a period of heavy life experiences including the death of a loved one and the end of a long-term relationship. She’s done some growing up, certainly — in fact, she did a lot of it before that first album even came out — but the reward for this spiritual journey is a breathtaking second album that finds Pratt displaying both more confidence and a more exploratory direction within her deceptively sparse sound.
On Your Own Love Again was recorded in much the same way as her debut was: At home, on a four-track recorder. She makes the most of a simple setup, however, incorporating more sonic treatments and slight touches of extra instrumentation, like the gentle, ethereal touch of organ that’s draped in the background of opening track “Wrong Hand.” The final minute of “Game That I Play” transforms into a reverb-heavy, clip-clopping miniature pop symphony that nods to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. And the backing vocals and spare touch of what sounds like xylophone in “I’ve Got a Feeling” make an already cool-sounding song into a sublime one. But every now and then, there’s a slight bit of accidental sound that creeps in to remind you of the intimacy of it all, as when the aptly-titled “Strange Melody” reveals, briefly, what sounds like a car alarm outside her house at the 4:41 mark.
Pratt’s home is just the source of the recordings, but the setting of the album is somewhere between her living room and a surreal and imaginary dreamspace where people turn into abstract pieces of art. The emotions at the heart of each song are similar in how they’re presented in Pratt’s warmly melancholy vocal performances, but the imagery she uses can sometimes go into unusual directions. She muses that “people’s faces blend together like a watercolor” in “Game That I Play,” and her visual description of “you come in colors now” on “Jacquelyn in the Background” gets an impressively weird twist when it suddenly drops in pitch. “Moon Dude,” finds Pratt gazing up at an astronaut, “on the outside, looking in,” whose loneliness echoes Major Tom’s. But for as many curious, psychedelic places that Pratt goes lyrically, she always eventually comes back down to earth to deliver a devastating line like “Things like that you can never take back again,” in “Back, Baby.”
The journey that Jessica Pratt takes on On Your Own Love Again is certainly much stranger than that of her debut, and she goes a greater distance at that. There are more characters and foreign landscapes, and plenty of wonderful places to get lost. And at the center of it, there’s a beating heart — a real, flesh and blood artist who serves as spirit guide, leading us to far off places on a whim, but bringing us back down to earth before our gravitational hold ever comes close to breaking.