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Natalie Prass - The Future and the Past Music Album Reviews

Natalie Prass - The Future and the Past Music Album Reviews
The singer-songwriter follows up her gloriously baroque debut with an album that uses deep grooves, politicized self-portraiture, and an eye for everyday cruelty to reckon with life in the Trump era.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, as nauseating improbability hardened into a reality, Natalie Prass found herself sitting on an album’s worth of songs that felt entirely wrong. Some artists who shared her frustrations were quick to express them in the moment. Setting aside the compositions she had imagined would make up her sophomore album, Prass, too, was determined to respond to Trump. But it took her a bit longer to find the right words.

Arriving well after the collective post-election adrenal spike started tapering off, as exhausted members of the resistance burn out from the stress of fighting the president’s every move, The Future and the Past isn’t a set of protest songs so much as the compassionate self-portrait of a protester who’s in it for the long haul. Prass levels her demands, then gives herself permission to be tired and discouraged—and to indulge in passing moments of joy.

On day one of the Trump presidency, “Sisters” might have made the most sense as the album’s showpiece; with its call for female solidarity and reclamation of the “nasty woman” epithet, the track could easily serve as a pump-up jam for droves of banner-waving women in pink. Now, nested seven tracks deep, “Sisters” feels more like the album’s bedrock. It’s the song into which Prass’ feminism is most clearly etched; she calls out to underpaid women grinding to keep the lights on, women trapped in bad relationships, women praying to be judged by their work and not their bodies. That she performs much of this song with a crew of female backup singers reads as a nod to the power of the collective voice.

On the verses Prass sings solo, her voice floats and rustles the way it did on her self-titled 2015 debut. At first listen, that album, with its delicate but ornate orchestration, offers an aesthetic more suited to her modest vocal style. But on “Sisters”—and throughout The Future—the grooves cut deeper, threatening to overpower her melodies. That contrast has political implications of its own: The tenderness of Prass’ voice poses a challenge to the notion that brute force and bluster are the most effective ways to relay a message.

And while the sonic shake-ups that distinguish The Future from its predecessor are noticeable, they aren’t radical. Prass stands behind the more-is-more philosophy that guided her debut, adding layers of synth, bass, and percussion to fill in the spaces where she’s peeled back woodwinds and strings. Extended intros, outros, and reprises pattern the album like swaths of damask: The lush “Interlude Your Fire” sets a dramatic stage for the sparkling doomsday romance of “The Fire.” Pieces of “Hot for the Mountain,” an eerie (if ambiguous) call to arms, bleed into later tracks.

Prass doesn’t go in for understated lyrics, either—she’ll throw all her weight behind one point until she’s satisfied that she’s driven it home. On The Future’s reproductive rights anthem, “Ain’t Nobody,” she repeats the words, “Ain’t nobody can take this from our hands.” The song sounds upbeat, but the words have the ring of an affirmation strategy; she’s like a college student chanting “I’m not tired” to keep herself awake in the final hours of an all-nighter. Hoards of politicians are working to ensure that she and other women are not what she calls “the sources of [our] bodies’ choices.” Declaring her autonomy on a loop becomes a way of clinging to it.

As she demonstrated on her debut, Prass has a sharp sensitivity to everyday cruelty. Back then, it was the skill that equipped her to paint a riveting portrait of malignant romance. On The Future, it guides her as she zooms out to contend with larger societal strife. As she puts it on “Ship Go Down,” “I’ve always felt the rain/But now a hurricane is pouring on me.” That hurricane is an endless torrent of depressing headlines and empty rhetoric.

Listening as Prass struggles through the muck, what’s clear is that The Future and the Past is really about the present—about finding ways to push through each day without giving over to despondency. This ship may be going down, but these songs are another set of buoys fighting to keep it afloat.

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