Prass is so adept at reworking retro aesthetics that they feel more modern and relevant than ever
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Upon the final results of the 2016 U.S. election, shockwaves were heard around the globe as people tried to cope with the reality they were just waking up to. Everyone had their own way of dealing with the news, and as she was readying the release of her second studio album, the Richmond, VA songwriter Natalie Prass decided to throw away all the progress she had made.
Her 2015 self-titled debut album was filled with starry-eyed love songs and lush orchestral arrangements that brought ‘70s AM radio aesthetics into the modern age, but Prass knew that she could not make the same album in these trying times and vowed to make one more relevant with the news she could no longer ignore. After a complete rewrite, Prass’ new album “The Future & the Past” still takes its major influences from bygones eras, but trades the dusty AM radio sound for slinky, swaggering grooves indebted to ‘70s soul, funk, disco, and ‘90s R&B. The result is a nuanced sophomore album that knows its place in the world; a socially conscious albums that any can dance out their grief to.
When Prass announced the album back in March, she accompanied it with the album’s debut single, ‘Short Court Style.’ The disco-tinged track was bouncy, groovy, and feather-light with Prass’ angelic soprano register, it could easily have been played at a roller disco if only it were released 40-something years ago. And while the track set the stage for Prass’ new musical footprint, it didn’t really touch upon any of the politicized anger she spoke about. However, she dived right into the nitty-gritty of it all on the opening track, ‘Oh, My.’ As she repeats, “It’s giving heartbreak to me,” over slapping bass and drums, you can hear she’s not singing about love’s demise, but about “read[ing] the news.” The anger is subtle, but poignant in a reality that constantly feels altered.
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Prass flips that anger into persistence on songs like “Hot for the Mountain,” with its subdued piano chord progression and snappy drums as she layers her vocals into a chorus chanting ominously, “We’ll take you on, we can take you on.” The most overtly political song, ‘Sisters,’ makes a direct call to arms for all the “nasty women” to stand in solidarity and “keep your sisters close” with women across the world. It’s slinky, funky groove plays out like an early Erykah Badu track, and speaks to the importance of intersectionality and the idea that feminine power can take shape in infinitely many different appearances.
Though fans of Prass’ first album would be taken aback by the bouncy jubilance that has overtaken her lovelorn balladry, her orchestral influence manages to imbue itself into some of the album’s deeper cuts. The soulful ballad “Lost,” written about putting one’s foot down in a turbulent relationship, could easily have stemmed from writing session from her debut. Even on her new sound, Prass and her producer Matthew E. White added inflections of lush orchestrations by way of fluttering keys and bold strings behind her live band of guitars and keyboards. On the penultimate track “Far From You,” Prass indulges in her melodic melancholy in a tribute to her hero, Karen Carpenter, in a rework of the duo’s famous single, “Close to You.” While these moments could easily be read as kitschy or even hackneyed today, Prass is so adept at reworking retro aesthetics that they feel more modern and relevant than ever.
“The Future & the Past” is out 01 June on ATO Records. The full track list is included below.
Short Court Style
Interlude: Your Fire
Hot for the Mountain
Never Too Late
Ship Go Down
Nothing to Say
Far from You
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