Two years ago, Natalie Prass was poised to go into the studio to record her second full-length album, hot on the heels of her critically-acclaimed 2015 self-titled debut record. And then the 2016 US election happened, inspiring Prass to rethink her entire approach to her music. Reeling from culture shock, as many artists and citizens were, she decided to rewrite the entire album.
“I needed to make an album that was going to get me out of my funk, one that would hopefully lift other people out of theirs too, because that’s what music is all about” Prass explains. On The Future And The Past, Prass takes her emotional funk and channels it into a musical mission statement, full of funk and groovy symphonic passion. Joyful, dance-worthy, and incredibly cool, Prass’ finely honed timeless style vibrates with optimism even when facing the darker side of the human experience.
The first lyrics set the tone, floated over perfectly funky guitar riffs, more than a little reminiscent of Prince: “I can’t believe the things I hear/on what is truth and what is fear… it’s giving heartbreak to me, oh my”. Heavy-handed background vocal harmonies create a textural wall of sound that supports Prass’ delicate yet powerful vocals. That symphonic vocal sound carries over directly into the second track and lead single Short Court Style. Here, Prass uses her lyrics to further establish the theme of making the best out of a bad situation: For all we know how the world is trying to show us where we first went wrong. The bass line is groovy, the synth is retro and sexy, and the vibe is undeniably feel-good.
A surprise musical interlude on the third track brings in a subtle element of emotional nostalgia, with its tenuous strings. This heartfelt sentimentality comes back in little sprinkles through the record, culminating on the penultimate, luscious pop ballad Far From You, which highlights Prass’ tender vocals better than any other track. It sounds like The Carpenters in the twenty-first century, shiver-inducing in its beauty.
Retro influences are abound throughout this beautifully curated album. The Fire uses 80’s synth to create a dreamy yet unsettling soundscape reminiscent of George Michael and The Police. The lyrics are both timely and timeless: “Into the fire we go, because it’s the only place that we know”. Hot For The Mountain is eerie and jazzy, with its atonal melody and intoxicating bass line. The monotone melody achieves a spoken-word quality that elevates the lyrics: “No we can’t lose touch, don’t step away when they’re treating us…let us raise a toast to the ones we love the most/have no fear, come in here, we will make you feel at home”. Sprinkles of strings and gorgeous twinkling piano arpeggios in the musical bridge lace the track with romantic 70’s soul.
Even the most mainstream-accessible track on the album, Lost, is operating on a thematically complex level. The pop structure of the bittersweet romantic ballad is deceptively simple… there is far more happening emotionally than first meets the ear. The subject of losing yourself in a love that threatens your very existence seems strangely of the current era; for many of us there is always a temptation looming to lose ourselves in an attempt to escape the stress and the pain of the chaotic contemporary world. And yet, just as Prass suggests throughout the album, as her very revision of the album indicates, to lose touch with reality is a danger that serves none of us in the long run. In order to keep our heads above water and move forward socially and consciously, we must face the truth of the world and of ourselves within it head on.
Throughout the album, Prass challenges and delights the listener, both positing deeply thoughtful ideas and also entertaining and uplifting with catchy melodies, soul-sustaining harmonies and vibrational healing rhythms. Everybody’s talking but there’s nothing to say she sings on Nothing To Say. It isn’t true of course. Prass has so much to say but she never takes the direct, didactic route. Instead she follows her heart and her gut instincts, weaving a metaphorical musical tapestry, creating a lush work of art that left me feeling deeply affected, even as I got to the final track and wrote this final note to myself: Just shut up and listen.