The worst assumption you can make going into Jessica Pratt’s Quiet Signs is that there won’t be much there, that minimalism isn’t for you. Knowing the folk singer/songwriter’s aversion to bells and whistles (and taking into consideration the album’s telling title), I myself feared a hollowness, but I was delighted to find the singer/songwriter somehow brings a maximalist energy to a record so subdued you’ll refrain from speaking during its quivering 27 minutes, for fear of disturbing the peace. Quiet Signs is a convincing argument for simplicity.
Pratt has a very, very restrained way of supplying strength and relief during our hectic moment. Her songs are so quiet they almost don’t even exist, but maybe that’s how we need to feel for just a moment—like we’re just air. The “Quiet Signs” on this album each yield their own kind of suspended calm: The first, “Opening Night,” is a beautiful 90-second piano ballad that would fit right in on the score of some early 20th century period piece; “Poly Blue” is a hypnotic dreamscape of strums; “Silent Song,” reminiscent of its title, is a whispered fairytale. Impatient listeners, beware: These tracks aren’t immediately satisfactory. They emit tranquility only if you’re willing to devote your full attention—and perhaps repeated listens.
There’s more escapist vibes on the spooky “Fare Thee Well.” While the lyrics are sort of unintelligible, the song’s flute paints a more vivid picture than words ever could. Pratt and her woodwinds conjure the feeling of a place still undiscovered—the dark side of the moon, some silvery slice of Antarctica, an uncharted bit of Pacific. Wherever Pratt had in mind, it’s probably not where you’re sitting right now.
“This Time Around” feels like an anchor, even though the album itself definitely feels more out-at-sea than harbored. It’s the most simple song on the album instrumentally, but Pratt sings the line “too hard, too hard” like a series of “oohs” and “ahhs” that add some beautiful complexity to the space-out. “Hallowed be thy name, had you come to claim it?” she sings, sounding like a witchier Joni Mitchell. Pratt is a commanding singer (and performer, if you’ve seen her live), but her voice is distant, like someone shouting at you from far away. She’s more focused on creating a mood than on a sturdy vocal delivery.
“Aeroplane” is a slightly gussied-up kicker—there’s a tambourine, piano and faint synths that build up in intensity as the song rolls on, ending the album on a literal high note. This song, like its mates, is quietly cryptic.
In under 30 minutes and in just nine songs, Pratt produces a warm, bewitching alternate dimension—but not the kind you fall into in a nightmare or thriller. The universe she’s fashioned for herself is more paradisal. And if you take a moment to find a quiet space and just sit with this record’s hollow parts, embracing them for the condensed elements they are, you might just find your own slice of heaven.