It is radical, in a world of constant sensory overload, to use quietness to make yourself heard: this is something Jessica Pratt uses masterfully on her new album. The plinked keys, strummed strings and warbled words are having none of it – Quiet Signs, as sparse and subtle as its name suggests, shares its secrets only with those willing to give their complete and undivided attention in exchange.
Though there is much common ground with 2015’s gorgeous On Your Own Love Again – prominent and distinctive use of acoustic guitar, at-times unintelligible (yet still beautifully sung) lyrics, a nod to folk music of yore and, of course, that strange, otherworldly voice – Quiet Signs is more finely tuned, sleekened by a studio where previous releases, largely home-recorded, were grainy and warmly primitive. This refinement is immediately clear, as the slinky, cinematic piano of album opener "Opening Night" leads into the silken melody of "As The World Turns."
Pratt is hard to pin to specific genres, eras, realms, shapeshifting through Quiet Signs’ spindly silver branches like Woolf’s Orlando – at one moment a siren accompanied by synth strings (on "This Time Around,") the next a 16th-century courtier (on the Greensleeves-evocative "Crossing"), later a mournful chorister ("Silent Song") and eventually, on "Aeroplane," an ethereal all-seeing deity.
There is no sense here of a ‘difficult third album,’ nor the kind of alarming change of direction that breaks fans’ hearts, but rather a skilful honing of a craft – a less frantically picked guitar here, a more softly spoken word there, a little bit of flute. And what a wondrous thing, for it is, I think, much harder to make what you have subtly better than to try your hand at something completely new.