Jessica Pratt’s self-titled debut is the kind of record that tends to incite music writers to say certain things: It’s “timeless”; she’s an “old soul”; or to speculate that perhaps it wasn’t recorded in current-day [London/Brooklyn/Omaha/Portland/etc.] but rather a lost folk revival gem dug out of some old vinyl hound’s back crates. This often serves as a euphemism for “did not brush his/her hair in his/her black-and-white press photo, is wearing some sort of vest, and does not use synthesizers.” But more than any other recent so-called “old soul,” the 25-year-old Pratt seems to have earned the distinction.
In these songs (recorded in San Francisco, 2007-12, for what it’s worth) she appears as an ageless figure, a willowy Highlander of sorts, burdened with the memories of a hundred friends and lovers lost to the ravages of time. There’s a wavery, gently warped quality to the songs, as if they were left out in the rain or transmitted through some ectoplasmic haze; most feature the sparse pairing of Pratt’s tremulous voice (here a flash of Stevie Nicks, there a waft of Dolly Parton) and her nodding finger-picked guitar, except when her voice is doubled, a funhouse refraction of an already barely corporeal being. The songs’ lyrical specificity is often muddled by her wry, ruminative enunciation, but when decipherable bits surface from the whorls of her creaky, curling voice they’re gnarled, fractured poetry, borderline hallucinatory — transient spirits, baby’s bones, ghost skins, curves in the road shaped like a toucan’s nose. Whatever is here is not enough. Thank god she’s still so very young.