Two sides of the pop dream – Isthmus

From the moment her captivating voice enters on the opener “Life Is,” Jessica Pratt’s Here in the Pitch recalls a hazy memory — one that feels familiar, yet distant. 

Revered for her stripped-back style, Pratt sings with a quiet, understated voice that feels out of time, crafting a sound that’s simultaneously beautiful and strange, and at times, haunting. She reaches new heights on Here in the Pitch, her fourth and best album to date. The singer-songwriter is bringing her tour to Madison for a performance at the Majestic on July 19. 

As a California native who relocated from San Francisco to Los Angeles more than a decade ago, Pratt points to a distinct Southern California influence on the album. She envisioned the recording as “big panoramic sounds that make you think of the ocean and California.” 

And that comes through, reflecting the feel of both northern and southern California — “which are quite different places. They’re two different worlds to me,” says Pratt in a recent interview with Isthmus.

Looking back at the songs she was writing and recording in San Francisco and very early in her time in L.A., “it almost feels murky in a way that I associate more with the north of California.” Her more current songs “feel a bit sunnier or something — or maybe drier. When I hear the music, it seems to evoke certain visuals that feel more associated with southern California.”

She’s always been drawn to ambiguity. Growing up in Redding, California, she remembers discovering Love’s Forever Changes in her mother’s eclectic library of CDs, cassettes and vinyl. The album’s enigmatic sound intrigued her — poppy, beautiful and eerie all at once.

 “There was a lot of music I was exposed to as a child that seemed intriguing and maybe had some darker themes or feelings that were difficult to put a finger on.” Pratt says. “Later, when I was getting into music around [age] 13, I rediscovered those albums and it was like unlocking a strange memory. An extra layer of weird nostalgia on top of those eerie qualities.”

Those same qualities describe Here in the Pitch, an album heavily influenced by 1960s California pop.. Pratt points to musicians like Tim Buckley and Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys as influences on Here in the Pitch’s sound. She also mentions her fascination with the Manson family, as a cultural influence that helped define the album’s distinct sound during the recording process — an undercurrent that might be “batting around a certain place, especially when you live in L.A., where any given street carries a chunk of history that may be relevant to what you’re doing,” Pratt says.

Here in the Pitch is awash with a sense of dreamlike ambiguity. With the album at a tight 27 minutes, it’s easy to get lost in the enchanting sound. “Life Is” opens the album with soft drums reminiscent of The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” On “World On A String,” she delivers a sunshiney pop chorus that could be mistaken for a track by The Mamas and the Papas. On “Better Hate,” the rhythm section supports Pratt’s vocals in a bossa nova style.

Surprisingly, ‘60s pop and L.A. weren’t layered into the album’s soundscape until Pratt began the recording process. “Any time I’ve tried to predetermine what a song will be before I write or record it, it never goes well. It always feels forced,” Pratt says. “Once you get a song under way and it feels like it’s pointing a certain direction, then you can guide it with certain sounds that evoke a certain feeling, or place, or time.”

Here in the Pitch was recorded at Gary’s Electric Studio in Brooklyn, New York, and marks Pratt’s second collaboration with producer Al Carlson (known for his work with St. Vincent). They were joined by Spencer Zahn (bass) and Mauro Refosco (percussion). Together, they experimented with diverse instrumentation, layering in everything from synths, horns and drums for the first time and enriching her hazy soundscape to achieve the 1960s pop sound.

“I didn’t visualize percussion necessarily in the premeditated pre-studio chunk of time, but once we had the material under our belt, certain influences and sounds started to come through a bit more,” Pratt says.

While Pratt and Carlson filled out the sound during studio sessions, she never abandoned the gentle approach she’s known for: “The mystery of that process is what makes it feel intriguing and also organic.”

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