11 May 2024

Review: Here in the Pitch by Jessica Pratt

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 11 May 2024
Jessica Pratt

Photo: Supplied

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Nostalgia is a heck of a drug, and plenty of music - maybe most of it - is simply recycling what has come before. The songs of Los Angeles singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt draw on the past with plenty of self-awareness, increasingly so on her latest album.

They still mostly orbit her acoustic guitar and pinched vocal tone, but, continuing down the path started on 2019’s Quiet Signs, are drenched in reverb, looking to the production innovators of the ‘60s, and the way they could make a tiny sound feel titanic. 

‘The Last Year’ is a good example of the way Pratt can conjure up a whole world with just her voice and guitar. There’s also that very occasional snare drum fill, which hits in the chorus. 

Here in the Pitch is the first of her albums to feature percussion at all. Pratt’s first two records especially were intimate and stripped back, like you were there with her in the room. Here, she’s sometimes joined by bass, and piano, and on ‘Better Hate’, an expertly deployed saxophone.

The way Pratt joins herself in harmony there brings to mind a number of ‘60s and early ‘70s reference points, from The Carpenters to Beach Boys, or, for me, certain kids TV shows from the era. 

Here in the Pitch is referring to ‘pitch’ as in darkness, or more specifically according to Pratt, “the dark side of the Californian dream”. It’s certainly steeped in West Coast vibes, and there is darkness, in lyrics like “some evil innocence”, and more explicitly, “our crimes are just a rhythm on the west”, both sung in ‘By Hook or by Crook’.

As I listened, the mix of sweetness and LA noir kept bringing to mind the work of director David Lynch.

There’s a moment on that song where, just after the chorus, Pratt’s backing vocal is notably deeper. Throughout the album she seems to be trying on different voices, something she’s done in the past purely through technique. But here I’m sure it’s occasionally digitally manipulated. I did wonder if the use of ‘pitch’ in the album’s title was a double meaning. 

Her work still sounds tightly controlled to me, the sound of someone allowing input from other musicians while keeping a firm hand on the reins. Making music with this much empty space, where imperfections tend to leap out, is tricky to master. But the uniqueness of her voice, and the mystery she conjures while honouring the past makes this a rewarding experience.