Making Sense of the World
Imagine if Ella Fitzgerald had grown up listening to ’80s pop and ’90s R&B instead of Louis Armstrong. That might land you close to describing the voice of Natalie Prass.
With a velvet voice and an encyclopedic songbook to utilize, singer-songwriter Natalie Prass has put together an eclectic collection of blended musical styles. Her latest release, The Future and the Past, was released on June 1st from ATO Records, making this Prass’ sophomore release following her self-titled debut album in 2015.
According to an ATO press release, Prass had written the whole album in 2016 but after the November election, she tossed aside her work at the time and went back to address her own feelings about the world around her. “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,” she said. Prass pours this disillusionment with the country into her lyrics, as heard on the opening track, “Oh My.” “Seems like every day we’re losing / When we chose to read the news yeah, oh my / Psychedelic confusion, mass illusion / Are we losing our minds?”
Underneath these soul-searching lyrics, Prass experiments with a wide variety of tones and beats throughout the album, ranging from minimal yet floating piano ballads such as “Lost,” to dance beat rhythms with reverberated drums like on “Oh My.” “Short Court Style” has a funky beat that you might hear in a ’90s R&B video. “Hot for the Mountain” is an alluring slow jam with a comforting yet sensual bongo-beat. “The Fire” opens with the album’s ever-present reverberated drum hits, coupled with echoing synthesizer chords straight from the ’80s pop guidebook. With all of this variety, it’s hard to necessarily pin down a specific genre for The Future and the Past. That being said, the subtle differences with each track the songs a life of their own that help them stand out from one another– all united under Prass’ impassioned vocal touch.
No track combines passionate lyrics and bopping melodies better than the feminist anthem “Sisters.” With a skipping drum beat that really keeps the track moving at a forward pace, a marriage of R&B groove and church choir harmonics as well as a call to all “nasty women” (for like-minded solidarity), this track has a great groove to which you can stomp your boots and snap your fingers.
Prass has stated in interviews that she often listens to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Ross, and you can hear these influences come out on tracks like “Never Too Late” where her voice is the star of the track. Even on “Lost” and “Hot for the Mountain,” tracks with limited instrumentation and beats, you can hear Prass’ delicate yet eloquent voice on full display.
Synth beats, rhythm and blues elements, electronic touches and inspired vocals are all found throughout The Future and The Past. R&B, pop, solo piano; there’s something here for nearly everyone, in one form or another.