Album Review: Jessica Pratt—“On Your Own Love Again”

By James Li

If you’re an indie folk musician, all you need to do is grow a beard, wear a tweed vest, and pick up a mandolin, and you’re vintage. But while some musicians dress the part, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt actually sounds vintage. On her sophomore album, On Your Own Love Again, Pratt is blithely oblivious to her folk contemporaries. She might have been born in 1987, but this album sounds like it could have been released in 1967. She wears her influences on her sleeve, like a weary traveller who drifted through the folk clubs of London and Greenwich Village, before settling in the Laurel Canyon — think old-school songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Vashti Bunyan, and Nick Drake.

On Your Own Love Again isn’t much more than voice and guitar, but luckily for Pratt, she has a very distinctive voice. Her birdlike warble might be an acquired taste to some listeners, and might turn off some listeners entirely. She has a way of bending the pronunciation of words, like she has some sort of exotic or antiquated accent. Pratt is more of an impressionist than a storyteller in the way that she uses her words. It’s like she says on “Game That I Play”: “People’s faces blend together like a watercolour you can’t remember.”

Album art for On Your Own Love Again

Album art for On Your Own Love Again

In one interview, Pratt expressed a need to expand her sound because she “didn’t want people to think I was just a basic bitch.” To be fair, though, basic is a good description of Pratt’s sound. Like her debut, On Your Own Love Again is home-recorded on a multitrack recorder, with not much more than her painterly nylon guitar chords as accompaniment. You can still hear the tape hiss, her guitar strings buzz, and on one song, a car alarm outside her house go off.

Even though Pratt doesn’t have much to work with, she always adds some interesting flourishes to her songs. On “Back, Baby”, the album’s catchiest track, Pratt’s guitar playing is so breezy, that it swings. “Strange Melody” lives up to its title, as Pratt lifts the hook from Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf”. And “Jacquelyn in the Background” takes a trippy turn as Pratt slows down the song’s pitch by manipulating the tape.

With On Your Own Love Again, Pratt wanted to evolve from her debut, which she recorded in 2007 at the age of 19, and reflect the changes in her life – she ended a long-term relationship and moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles. On Your Own Love Again is more fleshed-out than her debut, but I think for the most part, Pratt sticks to her guns, emphasizing her unique voice, barebones songwriting, and intimate recording. Pratt wears her musical style like a precious vintage coat: it’s a little faded and frayed, but it’s timeless and it will endure the years to come. (Drag City)

Listen: “Back, Baby”

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