Along with a worsening of the environmental crisis, the increasing shamelessness of neo-Nazis, and a potentially precipitous plunge into nuclear armageddon, we can blame Donald Trump for another problem: the long wait for The Future and the Past, the follow up to Virginian songwriter and Matthew E. White collaborator Natalie Prass’ self-titled debut. Prass had the album ready to go at the end of 2016, but scrapped it following the presidential election, breaking with the Spacebomb label and producing a record that feels much more urgent and necessary.
From the opener ‘Oh My’, it is clear The Future and the Past is going to be a different kettle of fish to Natalie Prass. While her first LP was deep within the Spacebomb ethos – a collection of timeless songs, evocative of Southern soul, with a sprinkling of Broadway and classic Americana – The Future and the Past is comprised of a much more modern sound: the beats are faster, the riffs funkier, and the majority of tracks underscored with a throbbing old-school baseline. The opening bars of ‘Oh My’ are reminiscent of Janet Jackson’s ‘What Has He Done For You Lately’, while slow burner ‘Hot for the Mountain’ veers into atonality before developing into a series of swelling strings and cascading keyboards, checking out with a jazzy piano solo.
The ballad ‘Lost’, which comes halfway through the record, is evocative of her earlier work – and displays Prass’ warm, powerful vocals, which she usually reserves behind a speak-sing style – but still retains a spikiness. While Natalie Prass was full of rounded sounds – soaring violins and glowing brass – The Future and the Past is indebted to ‘70s funk, lounge jazz, and neo-soul. ‘Far From You’, a tribute to Karen Carpenter, is Prass at her most Spacebomb-esque, but is followed by ‘Ain’t Nobody’, whose high-hat beat and bleep-bloop baseline mark a turning point in Prass’ career.
Lyrically, the record is markedly different. On ‘Oh My’, she takes shots at modern politics, asking “what is lying to a cheat?” while ‘Hot for the Mountain’ centres around the refrain of ‘we can take you all’. ‘Shop Go Down’ and ‘Nothing to Say’ both speak of brewing storm – whether that’s one of resistance or trouble it’s hard to gauge. ‘Sisters’ may take the idea of protest lyrics a bit literally – ”come on nasty women / so all the bad girls here’ let’s make that clear” – but then again, so did ‘Blowing in the Wind’, so there are few complaints.
The Future and the Past is a bold, assured follow-up to Prass’ long-delayed debut. She has already proved herself to be a confident musical magpie, as happy with an old-school ballad as with a bit of funk. It’s exciting to see where she might go from here.
The Future and the Past
Artist: Natalie Prass. Label: ATO Records. Top Tracks: Oh My; The Fire; Lost. For Fans Of: Janet Jackson; Matthew E. White; U.S. Girls. 45 minutes