Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Future and The Past | Natalie Prass



Singer-songwriter Natalie Prass got her groove back – or got her groove for the first time, should we say?

The second attempt at a sophomore record, The Future and The Past is the forward-thinking departure from her self-titled debut record. It took shape after the 2016 American presidential election, when Prass scrapped a finished record to incorporate the widespread devastation over Donald Trump's win. The first reincarnate of the record squared its sights on personal heartbreak, and fittingly, that story arc can still be seen splattered across this record as she explores thoughts of hopelessness and eventual recovery. But more importantly, The Future and The Past is the least urgent, most casual protest record to come from the past few years.

To fulfill an album title that all but guarantees a timeless sound and progressive songwriting, Prass mixes an incredibly potent cocktail of jazz, vintage rhythm and blues, lounge pop, and funk. (Oh, and just a touch of disco, especially as "The Fire" really elbows into an infectious groove not unlike one found on La Roux's sophomore record.) Her voice, then, is the smooth constant across the impressive gallery of textures. Her gliding vocal falls into dissonance for so long on “Hot for the Mountain” that when she finally slides back into proper position, it’s the sweetest relief. And on the stunning ballad “Lost,” her voice is the main attraction as it soars at its strongest on those belted lines: "Oh, I get lost when I'm with you, but at what cost?"

Remnants of the initial record can be heard on tracks like "Lost" and “Short Court Style,” a funk-oriented track slathered with a quaint pop melody. But her personal conflict is intertwined with her shared political frustration. "Oh My" opens the album with a sharp guitar line, a slinky beat, and lyrics that should be overblown on pop art posters: "Seems like every day we're losing when we chose to read the news, yeah. Oh my." Then comes the resistance: She grabs hold of womankind and empowers it to cooperate on her version of an anthem for "nasty women," titled "Sisters," and activates people to take charge in numbers on "Hot for the Mountain," chanting in one of her many layered vocal patches: "We'll take you on. We can take you on, hey."

It isn't until "Nothing to Say," an expansive, piano-led number toward the end of the record, that Prass perhaps best sums up the noisy, polarized madhouse that Trump has built out of America: "Everybody's talking, but they don't know. Everybody's talking, but there's nothing to say." Likewise, everybody talking expects to win – including Prass, who closes out with the triumphant funk of "Ain't Nobody." She sings, "Ain't nobody here is giving it up. Oh, ain't nobody can take this from our hands." But luckily, her confidence isn't misguided: The Future and The Past helps commemorate in music what ultimately will be remembered as the winning side of the 2018 narrative: The one that values respect and equality, built for and by those who prevail together.

The Future and The Past will be released June 1, 2018, on ATO Records. It is available for preview streaming via National Public Radio.

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Maira Gall