A car crash inevitably produces a gapers’ block (the traffic caused not by an accident, but by the people who slow down to “gape” at the accident on the other side of the highway) and the fascination of the gaper is kin to the proverbial “there but for the grace of inscrutable cosmological forces and/or my preferred deity go I.”

Julia Pratt’s powerful Family Feud EP invites a similar kind of fascination, evoking both deep identification and unbridgeable distance.

“Visions,” the opening track, sets the tone for much of what follows: acoustic guitar with ample reverb, minimal instrumentation, and well-crafted arrangements in support of some incredible and often layered vocals.

Pratt can do it all when she sings: range, technique, texture and variety of timbre, and a distinctive personality capable of vulnerability and attack, sometimes in the same syllable. If there is a wall in popular-music vocals between “authentic” (say, Bob Dylan) and “accomplished” (say, Mariah Carey), Pratt demolishes it in breathtaking fashion.

And the material in these songs gives her ample opportunity to do so.

The EP unfurls a complicated theme even in the best of circumstances—family—though the lyrics don’t shortchange the feud part of the title. Consider these lines from the second verse of “Visions”:

Mom, I had a vision
That there was a collision

After a few listens to this EP, I thought not just of a car crash (the crushing distorted guitar—the only such instance in the song cycle, a climax to “Visions”—just feels like fenders pounding each other) but of cosmic, historical forces smashing up against each other. Family means generations stretching back through time, hollering forward to the present, or from the afterlife, above or below, ghosts you have to believe in because they haunt your blood, your DNA.

(The music even had me thinking, we could have designed an entirely different transportation system, with far fewer collisions and fatalities and even visions maybe, which might have been a net gain for families everywhere, but oh well, here we are with highways and SUVs and CO2 and so on.)

In “Bull in a China Shop,” both parents are addressed:

Mama, I forget
What haven’t you seen yet?


Dad, can you hear me?
I’m no longer angry.

Pratt’s singer/protagonist seems to have a closer relationship with her mother, though this mother is perpetually let down by her daughter, whereas the father has never really been around. The china shop becomes a stand-in for the myriad family conflicts that must go unstated—they’re just too delicate, they’ll cause too much pain. And so it’s brave faces for everyone or, as the song would have it, a turning of the cheek.

Of course all those turned cheeks and stiff upper lips are an act, albeit a courageous one, masking “a rage that can’t be stopped.”

Rage, however justified, always presents a moral problem: just who is anyone to exact revenge, and how far is too far? Family complicates the dilemma further, because these are supposed to be the people you love the most. The song ends with a mantra that feels like a lie:

I promise I won’t break anything.

Truth-tellers always break something, even if it’s only a polite silence.

“Carolina,” the third track, addresses the mother, and Pratt’s singer/protagonist is the prodigal daughter. Here, her fear that she is a disappointment is made explicit:

I’d hoped you’d love the same
And accept the ways I’ve changed.

But the change is too much, and the singer doesn’t feel how she used to, how she wants to, around her mother, going so far as to claim, “No, I don’t feel anymore,” a sentiment undercut by the raw emotion in the vocals.

She’s that bull in the china shop, no matter how hard she tries not to be.

In “Chronos, Cruel Handler,” time is the destroyer of innocence, of “golden eyes in the bathroom, glossy, wide” in the mirror. A parent has scolded a child, who wonders, “Is it all my fault to you?” Yet this same child, perhaps now as an adult, also asks, “Product of the past, don’t you know they lied to you?” The past could be the singer’s own personal past as she grapples with the damage done to her by her upbringing—in which case she would be talking to herself—but it could also be the big past, history, which shapes humans and sometimes warps them into people they might not have been, such as absent or cruel parents—in which case the “you” is those very parents.

Family becomes the front lines for all the negotiations of blood and time, and the singer summons compassion and understanding even as she rages.

Burn the world . . .
All the good ones died like you

Death pervades this short song cycle, but it’s never entirely clear who has died. As important is the struggle for life, for rebirth, though in “Michael,” the epic closer to the EP, addressed to the father, the singer’s insistence on life means staving off suicide:

I long to bleed for somethin’
I follow through
I’m not like you

Here the “you” is Michael, the absent father who “ran off with empty pockets.” The tension and stakes in the rhyme of “follow through” and “not like you” could not be higher. The song ends in an anguishing uncertainty, though I think the singer/heroine chooses life even as she sings the final words.

Is this goodbye?
My eyes are dry
And I love you though I can’t remember why