Over the past few years, many a journalist has spilled a hefty amount of ink about the Bay Area’s now fairly long running garage rock scene. And, to be fair, it’s a remarkably fertile source of great rock `n’ roll music, with the likes of Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall and White Fence having kept speakers blowing all year long, and quite a few beforehand. Yet one such noisemaker in San Francisco, White Fence’s Tim Presley, went through the trouble of starting a record label, Birth, for the sole purpose of releasing the debut album by Jessica Pratt, a singer-songwriter whose gentle, acoustic ballads stand in stark contrast to the psychedelic rockers around her. Yet her sound is so singularly enchanting, it’s easy to see why Presley went through so much trouble to share her music with the world outside their dense, but limited, bay community.
On first listen, one would be forgiven for thinking that Pratt’s music was recorded much longer ago. Like, say, the 1970s, during an era in which Pratt wasn’t even born. It’s more a feel than anything — Pratt’s debut is recorded on analog tape, and has a raw, direct feel that makes her intimate, straightforward songwriting crackle with warmth. Her strings buzz, her voice wavers, and even the album cover, a simple black and white portrait of the artist, looks like the sleeve of a lost gem. That it’s brand new doesn’t so much speak to Pratt, herself, seeking out a particular long-lost aesthetic, so much as it does her ability, by very simple means, to evoke something romantic and classic.
Pratt’s songs are scarcely ever anything more than the mixture of her vocals and gentle plucks of guitar — they don’t need to be anything else. She gets a good amount of range from just one voice and one guitar, though it helps that her voice is fairly versatile. Her double-tracked harmonies on “Night Faces” give the track an eerily beautiful quality that’s at once soothing and slightly magical. However, Pratt takes on a more sweetly chirping quality on “Half Twain The Jessie,” and on “Casper,” a track that recalls Elliott Smith more than any Laurel Canyon troubadour of the ’70s, there’s an almost bluesy sense of melancholy to her vocals. Yet to pin down her songs as simply “sad” isn’t quite right. There is sadness in her songs, but also moments of whimsy, and almost invariably, great beauty.
Gentle, intricate folk music the likes of which Pratt specializes in may sometimes harken back to an earlier era, though it’s a sound that seems to re-emerge fairly regularly, be it through newer artists like Iron & Wine, or recently unearthed obscurities such as Linda Perhacs’ recently reissued Parallelogram. While Pratt is young, her aesthetic is one that defies time or place. Or maybe, more succinctly put, music as beautiful as Pratt’s just sounds good regardless of when it’s being played.
Stream: Jessica Pratt- “Night Faces”