Pop Culture

Album Review: Jessica Pratt, ‘Here in the Pitch’

Whenever I try to conceptualize Jessica Pratt’s music, I think of ‘Casper’, a track from her homespun self-titled debut that came out over a decade ago. “And my dreams are made of ghosts’ skin/ When I wake up in my dark places,” she sings, “And I reach for the misty faces/ That take me down to my favorite ride.” Bluesy, dreamy, ghostly, misty – these are all adjectives that have become associated with Pratt’s particular strand of folk-pop, which people like, depending on their own reference points, to further relate to some decade or geographical area. But if comparing songs to dreams seems a little lazy, Pratt came up with a more useful analogy in a recent interview: sleep talking. “You know, if somebody tells you you said something in your sleep, you’re like, I guess that makes sense,” she explained. “But it also is sort of this uncanny feeling, like it’s coming from another source.”

I get this feeling every time I listen to Jessica Pratt, but it’s hard to articulate. What’s that other place, and is the artist taking you there, or is she also just a visitor? If part of the songwriting process is like sleep talking, how can Pratt’s music sound at once of sleep and outside of it, swimming in the unconscious while also alerting you of all the things you missed when you were lost there? How come she’s both the one talking and waking you? Pratt is so singularly capable of tuning into that hazy space that when she puts out new material after so many years, it’s like realizing you’ve been missing something, been a little lost for a long time. This might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s the only way I can describe diving into Here in the Pitch, her first album since 2019’s Quiet Signs. It might be the most lucid and grounded record of Pratt’s career, but it’s still governed by that uncanny feeling: the ambiguity of time, how it blurs and slips one by, or simply slips, and how a song can suddenly pick it up.

“The power of ghosts is in the fact that they’re unseen, but observing you,” Pratt has said, reflecting on the Stephen King books she delved into during lockdown, where “there’s usually a psychic element where someone has access to knowledge in a way the average character does not.” When you listen to Here in the Pitch, that sense of knowingness belongs to Pratt, but like the listener, she’s also just the character filtering each piece of psychic wisdom through her reality. “Life is, it’s never what you think it’s for/ And I can’t seem to set it off/ And lately I’ve been insecure,” she begins, matter-of-factly, on the opening track. Over a warm, delicate melody, the singer’s musings grow bolder and curiously personal (“You should know the courage of my heart/ Don’t suppose the earth could spin apart”) before the doors slide open and the song spills into something divine: “I want to be the sunlight of the century/ I want to be a vestige of our senses free.”

It happens all the time, this game of consciousness, and Pratt’s trick is landing somewhere between cosmic absurdity and transcendence. Somehow, it makes sense – maybe not literally, maybe not now, but down the road, and you want to follow that thread. As she sways against the bossa nova of ‘By Hook or By Crook’, you’re not quite sure how she arrives at “the end of dreams again,” but the vague truths she carves out feel strangely evocative, haunting even. For Pratt, getting to the end of a chorus may feel like touching ground, but it’s never totally satisfying, never quite as revelatory as the falling itself. So for large swathes of Here in the Pitch, she sounds wonderfully adrift, playing with every element of a song and digging deeper: on ‘Better Hate’, she floats atop the conclusion of a melody, treating the la-la-las in along like a lovely discovery; she does a similar thing waltzing along ‘Get Your Head Out’, a relatively direct composition at once haunted and cradled by Al Carlson’s underlying organ. There’s the watery piano on ‘Empires Never Know’, the subtle horn part that almost sinks the whole thing down. And then there’s the surprising use of percussion, which feels at first like a novelty, a mode of expansion, on a song like ‘Life Is’, and then more textural, like a punctuation point, on ‘The Last Year’.

For much of Here in the Pitch, Pratt relishes in the conflict between light and dark, but also seems to uncover something becalming about sitting in the dark rather than being consumed by it. It’s nothing spectral, nothing to stare off into; it’s just where you’re caught from time to time, what keeps you reaching for sources of light and air. Those things are abundant in Pratt’s music, because they take time, and time is practically all it’s concerned with. You feel her stretching it slightly on ‘Glances’, an instrumental that paradoxically serves a more concrete image than most of Pratt’s lyrics, so the one in ‘The Last Year’ rings all the more true: “I think we’re gonna be together, and the storyline goes forever.” Pratt calls this a “weird optimism,” and it feels weirder still to call it a story. Maybe it’s just light, and maybe it’s just the ride we find ourselves in. Maybe it’s just a feeling. But Pratt is here to ensure you’re coming along, that forever never feels out of grasp, and that it’s your favorite.

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