Jessica Pratt Unleashes Girl Group Progeny of Yesteryear With a Lo-Fi Bent on Here in the Pitch

The Los Angeles singer-songwriter’s fourth album—and her first in five years—attempts to reckon with time and all of its charms, disasters and unknowns.

Music Reviews Jessica Pratt
Jessica Pratt Unleashes Girl Group Progeny of Yesteryear With a Lo-Fi Bent on Here in the Pitch

Between Jessica Pratt and Cindy Lee, it’s hard not to think of 2024 as the year of the sun-soaked, lo-fi, girl group-evoking lounge music album. Both Pratt’s new LP, Here in the Pitch, and Cindy Lee’s recent two-hour album Diamond Jubilee signal that we are knee-deep in a renaissance of a musical style that has never been quite absent from the zeitgeist—nor has it ever been all that close to the front of the line. But on Pratt’s first proper release in five years, we are welcomed into the colorful lullaby of her California coastal folk-pop: “Life Is” kicks off with a percussion pattern reminiscent of the water jug Hal Blaine plays at the beginning of the Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No.” Quickly after, Pratt’s hypnotic, smoky, childlike vocal chimes in in tandem with her familiar and aching, pillowy nylon strings. “Life is, it’s never what you think it’s for,” she sings. “And I can’t seem to set it off, and lately I’ve been insecure. The chances of a lifetime might be hiding their tricks up my sleeve.”

Pratt herself is a historian of all things odd, molecular and terminally West Coast—and her particular fascination for the intersection between the dark undercurrent of her home’s corrosive lore (like the Manson Family) and the cityscape’s neighboring natural beauty (like the San Gabriel Mountains) are injected into the very DNA of Here in the Pitch. You can listen to these nine songs and think there’s something nostalgic to latch onto—and maybe there is—but what’s so joyous and worthwhile about this collection is how detached from any particular generational label it is. For every nod to the GTOs Jessica Pratt gives us, she also evokes a sonic promise akin to something Dirty Beaches would’ve made 12 or 13 years ago. It’s as indebted to the Crystals as it is to the robust, flamboyant excess of contemporary pop music, building on the ecstatic magic of 2019’s Quiet Signs.

And even then, Here in the Pitch isn’t frozen in time or steeped in misunderstood modernity. Calling it retro wouldn’t be a disservice to the material, but I’m not so sure you could really call it a retro-sounding album. It’s suggestive of the place it was inspired by, a Los Angeles that, no matter what year it is, still brandishes a type of sentimentality that makes for a particularly genius muse. And that’s what makes a track like “Life Is” such an anodyne opener: It’s orchestral, dense (but in a paradoxical, featherlight way) and well-lit with hues of CinemaScope mysticism needed to evoke the widescreen, berceuse, Old Hollywood soundsystem Here in the Pitch so graciously sets aglow. It’s this same wonderment that gifts us a one-liner of the year contender (“Get yourself onto God, my love” in “Empires Never Know”) and one of the best instrumentals (“Glances”).

“Better Hate” puts on a pedestal one of the best facets of Here in the Pitch: Jessica Pratt’s resounding knack for a bulletproof melody without leaning on some ornate, pretty chorus. Instead, her voice is five-feet thick in the verses without losing any of the ageless, dainty lilt we’ve come to expect and adore from the 37-year-old Californian. The track is 11 lines long, but the defining element comes via Pratt’s beautiful gibberish—her la-la-las are especially absurd and lovely to a despicably lovely degree. “And I know you tried to get through to me and while I’ve been tied to an infamy that I’ve tried to hide,” she sings, before cascading into a set of oops that rise and fall like mercury in a gun-shy thermometer. On “By Hook or By Crook,” there’s a large influx of samba, bossa nova instrumentation—sounding like it was hawked right out of the background of a lounge scene in a 1970s B-movie, or in an elevator or tiki bar. Knowing Pratt’s love for off-the-beaten-path pop lore, the track arrives like an excerpt from a chapter of popular culture that our eyes have since been trained to look away from. “Some people chip away time more than they understand an open hand,” Pratt sings, as Al Carlson’s Farfisa organ blankets her. “I’m waiting for way before first light, and it’s the edge worn clean again.”

“World On a String,” too, is just as powerful, warm and entrancing—existing as a lesson in timelessness and balancing on the tight-rope of Pratt’s acoustic guitar strums. The track, in equal measure, sounds like a Mamas and the Papas demo while also sitting cozily in the belly of mid-2010s, lo-fi bedroom pop. “I want to be the sunlight of the century,” Pratt sings through a summery volume. “I want to be a vestige of our senses free.” Pratt herself was inspired by forgotten teen garage bands, and you can hear the charm of the Dandy Girls aching through every syllable. Stepping into “World On a String” is like making a home inside a time capsule, but only Jessica Pratt could make such archaic familiarities register so new.

Much of Here in the Pitch attempts to reckon with time and all of its charms, disasters and unknowns. Whether that’s done through nods to a post-psychedelic haze on “World on a String,” through horn placements that echo the sounds, sights and ashy hues of the speakeasies that Los Angeles miscreants might have stumbled into four, maybe five decades ago, or lines like “I soon should know what remains / I never was what they called me in the dark / I never was / Here I sit so long”—it’s obvious that Pratt has never felt more comfortable in her own ambitions, a truth most prominently on display throughout a track like “Get Your Head Out,” which shimmies between the vibes of dimly lit hotel soirées and “in the stars waiting ‘til love’s aligned.” On Here in the Pitch, it’s as if Pratt is walking with us down the Yellow Brick Road, but the cobblestone quakes with bitumen smacked by traces of romance and horror that, on their own can be quite maddening but, here, make for some adventurous, Great American Songbook-worthy shapes.

Likewise, you can hear the influence of something like Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon on Pratt all over Here in the Pitch—as she portends some great, years-long, menacing aura that, in due time, will be as fascinating as it once was harrowing. In that, the bubbliness of Pratt’s songwriting—no matter how far away from the microphone she sounds—saunters just a step ahead of all-falls-down. Here in the Pitch is a serenade of our own unique endtimes, packed with rollicking, sugar-sweet verses and vocalizations you can twirl your body to and curl up and anguish over all the same. And, at a mere 27 minutes in length, Pratt wastes no time with us. The whole project is tight as a wire, opening the door for a song like “Nowhere It Was” to lurk hauntedly—propelled by Carlson’s lucid drum machine and Pratt’s basement-stark singing. “It seems it’s all so wonderful inside,” she beckons, slashing through the gloom with a wounded olive branch.

Here in the Pitch culminates in Pratt’s greatest song yet: “The Last Year.” Nurtured on a bed of plucked nylon, she sings about “weird optimism” in the face of the “pitch darkness” that crops up across the tracklist and is so definitively evocative that Pratt named the record after it. As a closer, “The Last Year” is immediate and perfect, never stretching out but, instead, reveling in its own playfulness. Where a song like “By Hook or By Crook” staged itself as a gnarled post-counterculture-evoking bedrock, “The Last Year” is solemn and never-ending—even though Carlson’s piano comes to a halt and Pratt strums her guitar with one last breath. Like the enduring tales and myths that drench Jessica Pratt’s Los Angeles in such an attractive, curious, folklorish wardrobe, the days blow by and the characters all stick around in some form or another once Here in the Pitch rings out. Life beats on, and Pratt sings it best: “I think we’re gonna be together, and the storyline goes forever.”

Matt Mitchell reports as Paste‘s music editor from their home in Columbus, Ohio.

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