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The Spellbinding Tranquility of Jessica Pratt 

The songwriter’s fourth studio album transcends time and place with pure nostalgia. 

by Maggie McPhee

Photos by Samuel Hess

From the first sound, Here in the Pitch distinguishes itself from Jessica Pratt’s stripped-down singer-songwriter output. Opener ‘Life Is’ picks up with percussion, an element notably absent in her previous records. Out the gate, listeners familiar with her work must lay their roadmap aside, for the ensuing journey travels beyond charted territory. Timpani, glockenspiel, flute, and baritone saxophone expand her signature sound across space, while bossa nova baselines and ’60s orchestral arrangements stretch it across time. Pratt’s voice and lyrics keep you tethered to something familiar, prevent you from spinning out entirely. The combination conjures both unease and tranquillity, as if on an inner tube, margarita in hand, drifting down the River Styx. 

Pratt’s spellbinding fourth studio album seems composed with the elements, the topography of the California coast, scraps of music history, and murky traces of memory. She has dipped her hands into the waters of time, extracted an intangible gift, and channelled it into the present. Here in the Pitch is a divining rod for the spirits of the ages. 

Talking with RANGE, Pratt explains how her songwriting has always been inspired by “a patchwork of stuff,” in particular, film, books, history, and music. It’s that integration of influences that allows for endless permutations of affect, even when wielding a single acoustic guitar. With an extended arsenal of instruments, she can cite her reference points with even more clarity. 

“It’s maybe easier to feel that stuff more clearly with added instrumentation to point towards certain eras or certain artists, having more tools at my disposal and feeling more comfortable using them,” she adds. “It’s a totally different sound world to experiment with, given all my previous material.” 

Over the last five years, as Pratt began chipping away at Here in the Pitch, she tore through books, including the works of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Tolstoy. She also picked up non-fiction materials for the morbidly inclined, like Tom O’Neil’s tome on Charles Manson, and when our interview took place she was reading about the cholera epidemic in Victorian London. “City history,” she emphasizes. “Histories of urban environments throughout time are very interesting to me.” On Here in the Pitch, she combines these interests into geographies of the macabre that she sculpts into sonic spires, spaces, echoes and edges. 

Pratt’s sense of history is musical and her music is historical. Here in the Pitch alludes to a repertoire of rock music from the 1950s through to the 70s, from the Zombies to Girls Together Outrageously to João Gilberto. Some references translate a mood while others are more direct, such as the sounds of the 12 string mando-guitar used in the opening of the Beach Boys ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ appearing across ‘World on a String’ or the wavering way Pratt draws her vocals out on ‘Empires Never Know’ that mimics John Lennon’s plaintive “I’d love to turn you on” in ‘A Day in the Life.’ Pratt sources Pet Sounds as her “North Star,” not so much for its orchestral grandeur but rather for its atmospheric silences, the palpable pauses between each note. 

Honing in on these silences, Pratt’s pastiche feels singular — not a replication of the sounds but of their shadows. The effect works the way memory works, distorting fact into feeling, when the gauzy fragments that live on our bodies can appear clearer in the mind and sharper on the senses than when things actually transpired. When nostalgia hits, we can be overcome with awe and melancholy, even pining for an era we never experienced or that never actually existed. The nine songs on Here in the Pitch summon that feeling state, as well as the fear of death that lurks beneath it. Awash in reverb and accompanied by lush vocal arrangements, they bleed beyond three dimensions into those borderlands where the veil between worlds is thinnest. 



Co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Al Carlson helped Pratt discover those dimensions. Recording together at Gary’s Electric Studio in Brooklyn for the first time since Pratt’s 2019 album Quiet Signs, they were able to evolve how they used the studio as a creative duo. “Quiet Signs was all about understanding how I could translate material in the studio,” she says. “Understanding how to use the studio as an instrument and make sure the material felt like it wasn’t losing any of the energy I had been able to translate in a home recording situation.” 

After climbing the learning curve, Pratt developed an awareness of the physical space and how to play around with the atmospherics. Recording in a capacious live room on a reel-to-reel tape machine, Carlson positioned room mics at different heights to capture a sense of space. “You can feel the space around you and the space around the instrument,” she says. “You’re using the space and the very particular circumstantial aspects of the recording scenario to enrich the music, because every studio sounds different, all the equipment sounds different depending on where you are.” 

Here in the Pitch, the ‘pitch’ — signifying both pitch darkness and the black tar bitumen that coalesces deep below the surface of the earth — roots itself at once in the untouchable and the material, instruments and the space between them, the air and the earth, life and death. On ‘World on a String’, Pratt sings “I want to be the sunlight of the century/I want to be a vestige of our senses free.” The irony is, for someone so clairvoyant, she doesn’t realize she’s already arrived.  

Jessica Pratt will tour this summer with an expanded five-piece band. 

Thu. June 20 – Los Angeles, CA @ Teragram Ballroom

Fri. June 21 – Pioneertown, CA @ Pappy + Harriet’s

Sat. June 22 – San Francisco, CA @ Bimbo’s 365 Club

Wed. June 26 – Seattle, WA @ Neumos

Thu. June 27 – Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom

Wed. July 24 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom

Fri. July 26 – Philadelphia, PA @ World Cafe Live

Sat. July 27 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair