Balanced, infectious, and deeply captivating.
You can throw most of your expectation about the sound of a new Natalie Prass album out the window. If you came to this album looking for a tighter, better version of the delicate strings and heartbreak songs that made Prass’ 2015 self-titled album so fantastic, you should turn back now. Three years is a long time, and it’s impossible to overlook the fact that Prass has spoken in interviews about how The Future and the Past, her surprising sophomore album, is not the album she initially recorded. “I had a record ready to go,” Prass recently interviewed, “And I scrapped it.” Her reasoning? The 2016 election, of course: “I can’t release a neutral record right now, I need to contribute to the conversation.”
Opener “Oh My” is nearly jarring in how unlike the first record it is (outside of “Why Don’t You Believe in Me,” the album’s clearest sonic tie), and helps announce the direction of The Future: it’s funky as hell a lot of the time. It’s never overbearing or schmaltzy in its approach, which means it is akin to the breath of fresh air her debut was. Prass is an incredibly composed artist as is, and with the help of producer/long-time friend Matthew E. White and his Spacebomb band (also responsible for the sound of her debut), she’s able to pull off booty-shakers like “Short Court Style” and slow-burners like “Lost” with equal grace. Every inch of The Future is infectious and welcoming, utilizing every lesson learned from thrift store funk/soul records to make something that gives it an ageless feeling – it’s both remarkably fresh and comfortingly familiar, a tightrope act White manages to pull off for the entirety of the record.
Prass knows that beating people over the head with her message isn’t the way to approach her desire to contribute to the conversation, so the political themes of The Future are kept subtle. The album is less about the rise of notable steak salesman Donald Trump, and more about the feelings that are borne out of that reality: “Only when I am floating/ I can see all of the sweet lights/ Twinkling below me/ Oh, it is crazy to see a ship go down,” she sings on “Ship Go Down.” Earlier, on album/career highlight “Hot for the Mountain,” her honeyed voice calls for unity: “So 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.” These themes aren’t obvious if you don’t know to look for them, even after hearing “Seems like every day we’re losing/ When we chose to read the news, yeah” on “Oh My.” She’s less subtle on songs like “Oh My” and “Sisters,” the latter of which is the album’s weakest lyrically but one of its finest in execution – lines like “We gotta change the plan/ Come on nasty women” come off cloying on paper but are delivered brilliantly here.
The Future isn’t the album you may have expected sonically from Natalie Prass, but it is the album you likely expected her to make: one that is balanced, infectious and deeply captivating if you’re open to it. Her trajectory has lead her in a fascinating direction of R&B/funk-leaning pop songs, yet still bearing her preternatural songwriting abilities. These songs don’t tell the same detailed accounts of heartbreak like “Your Fool” or “Christy” did, trading “Our love is a long goodbye” for “Ain’t nobody can take this from our hands,” but she still leaves room for surprising phrases like “This is now grief and joy/ Elation, sadness, we’re mend then destroy/ A sparrow within all of the noise” (“This Fire”). The Future also cements Prass as one of this generation’s most promising musicians, able to scrap an entire album and birth such a compelling new one in its place. It doesn’t matter what the scrapped one sounds like, really: it feels like this is the album she was meant to make.