By: Hope Ankney
Truth be told, I stumbled upon Natalie Prass recently while rummaging through the clearance section at Urban Outfitters. Wedged between their playlist of lounge-pop and lo-fi EDM was a clear, distinct vocal overlaid funky rhythms and beats. I recall bopping my head every time I swiped left on a piece of clothing, the friends accompanying me also letting their bodies move to the song over the speakers. It wasn’t so much that it was out of place but that it was fresh in comparison. Giving in to the curiosity of the funkadelic tune, I pulled up SoundHound on my phone to discover the name of the track, “Short Court Style,” and that’s where the dive began. As I sit here, writing this review, I curse myself for missing out on the versatile voice and bright musicality Natalie Prass has brought to the table since 2015.
Hailing from Virginia, Prass has been applauded for her progressive and commanding pop melodies. Eyeing her sophomore effort, a pressure put on every artist, it was detrimental for this record to further solidify her unique spot in the industry as more than a short-term flame. As her label, ATO, describes the process, Prass ended up scrapping a full LP’s work after the results of 2016’s election and started anew- furthering her sound and content featured on what now is her second album, The Future and The Past, out June 1st.
The fresh start to the record did wonders, as it stands today to be celebrated for being one of the most cohesive and groovy pop albums to hit the market in 2018. Prass’ ability to feature a healthy balance of both political and personal issues into The Future and The Past is impressive- never faltering or losing the lush musicality with these debates. Fascinatingly enough, the tracks with political undertones are covered in upbeat melodies and R&B instrumentals whereas the more personal, heartbreaking tracks tend to turn more towards ballad territory. Whether Prass was aware or not of the statement these musical choices make, it does ring true that politically charged subject matter isn’t always grim and can have its own place on the dance floor.
Regarding blatant references to the news and social issues are the opening track, “Oh My” and later track, “Sisters.” “Oh My” starts the album off on its funky journey, implementing influences of jazz and disco groove that is definitely a nod in Prince’s and Paisley Records’ direction. It discusses the constant heartbreak reading the news brings almost like a scorned lover refreshing their ex’s social media. “Sisters” is drenched in female empowerment. Starting off as a slinky, slow jam, Prass croons each lyric offering Amy Winehouse to be there in spirit, while transitioning into a more socially conscious anthem as the chorus features lyrics like “you’ve gotta keep your sisters close to ya” and “I want to say it loud for all the ones held down.” This is laid over tap gospel choir-honed backup vocals that add to the track’s strength both lyrically and as a rowdy 90’s R&B record.
Prass doesn’t shy away from heartbreak and romance either, if anything intensifying the emotional reaction interchanging the light-hearted vocals and glam pop roots of “Short Court Style” as a story navigating a complicated relationship to tracks like “Far From You” and “Nothing to Say” that dive into the darker, lonelier levels of love.
“Far From You” could be described as nothing less than a power ballad one would find themselves listening to in the mid 1980’s, weeping over their relationship late at night. The song is reminiscent to Prass’ sound in her debut LP but cranked further. The entrancing quality of this record, though, is the almost whimsical vocal delivery Prass gives that litters it with fairy dust. “Nothing to Say,” on the other hand, keeps to its dim theme with a blossoming isolated group harmony before pushing forward on the piano offering down-trodden lyrics of “no words can heal the heart when the heart’s been slayed” that drops off into a darker synth beat.
“Never Too Late” proves to be the breakout track from The Future and The Past. A clear disco, glam-pop tune that lets the 808 drums drive the song. It’s Natalie’s clean, precise vocals here that shine brighter than the rest of the album’s work. Her voice lends to the playfulness of the record as it makes a point to hit each beat as the chorus builds. Featuring a funkier break-down in the latter half with chimes showering down, it’s hard to resist thinking you’re living Saturday Night Fever, ready to hit the disco.
Natalie Prass’ sophomore effort, The Future and The Past, is not only a 45-minute groove machine but an appropriately named body of work. Traces of the past are scattered throughout the record from influences of R&B, Jazz, and Funk to personal heartbreak to political statements. The future is seen through the modern-edge and chic nature of Pop Prass executes within the musicality and subject matter. Absorbing this record is like blinking and seeing the world through a hazy, sepia lens. The warmth that radiates through the elements of disco-pop and synthesizer funk in The Future and The Past is enough to grab the attention of any fan of TLC, En Vogue, or The Talking Heads. Don’t allow Natalie Prass’ groovy nature to slip your mind.