Towards the end of Natalie Prass’s second full-length album The Future and the Past, she sings a heartfelt ode to the late, great Karen Carpenter. That song “Far From You,” and its subject, is slightly out of step with the other inspirations on the album—which, as Prass explained in a Consequence of Sound track-by-track breakdown, are recent political and cultural events—but in taking the time to sing of her love for a committed, true artist with a distinctive and beautiful voice, Prass is simultaneously helping us to link her and Carpenter in our minds. Wrapped-up in Carpenter’s warm, subtle voice was always the palpable love she had for the music and the melody. Prass exhibits this same love on her album here, as her unique and crystalline voice is the dominating factor of every song and turns even the more repetitive or slow-paced songs here into something pleasant and at least a little interesting.
“Far From You,” with its referential lyrics and focus on Prass’ emotive delivery over too much musical adornment is one of the best songs of the album, and it comes at the end nestled amongst a few other stand-outs. In fact, both the beginning and the end of The Future and the Past are the strongest points of the album. In the middle, things slow down just a bit. To start, we begin with “Oh My,” an excellent and energetic album opener that bounces and grooves immediately, successfully pulling you into the album’s orbit. In that Consequence of Sound breakdown, Prass speaks a lot about how the events of the 2016 Presidential election, as well as the Me Too movement and the general omnipresence of fear, frustration, and anger, influenced several tracks on the album. “Oh My” is a good start to this collection of tracks, as it’s a generalized reaction to everything awful that has been happening in the past few years which all contribute to the feeling, as Prass sings, of “psychedelic confusion/mass illusion/[and] losing our minds.” The up-tempo spirit of the song indicates that yes, this album does address many of the toxins in the air right now but it’s going to do so in a positive way—because piling on the negative is not necessary.
“Oh My” is followed by “Short Court Style,” one of the few more traditional pop songs on the album that focus on a personal, rather than global, situation. Here Prass lets her voice rise and fall in smooth, delightful waves to match the relationship she describes that goes “round and round” with “ups and downs,” but which she ultimately can’t resist.
The next four songs, not including a very brief instrumental interlude, are most of the political songs on the album, addressing subjects such as protesting, abusive relationships and sexism, although none of the tracks come off as didactic or dry. Even “Sisters,” a gospel-tinged song extolling the necessity to “keep your sisters close to ya” with shout-outs to nasty women who are “worldwide, world-class” manages to avoid becoming a lecture by its inherent rhythm and uplifting spirit. However, “The Fire,” “Hot for the Mountain” and “Lost,” with their more muted melodies are initially a little lost amid the rest of the album’s more instantly appealing and interesting tracks.
The back half of the album gets a little more experimental, to good effect. “Never Too Late” is a California-sunshine-tinged throwback jam, followed by “Ship Go Down,” which is one of the more abstract tracks on the album. Prass’s vocals swerve in unexpected ways as she contemplates how “crazy it is” to watch a ship go down, the ship in question essentially being America. “Nothing to Say” and “Ain’t Nobody” bookend the Carpenter-tribute “Far From You,” with “Ain’t Nobody” in particular mirroring the rhythm and positivity of the album openers.
The Future and the Past is a strong effort from Natalie Prass. Every song on the album feels like it comes from a personal perspective and a desire, as Prass states in her Consequence of Sound interview, to put something positive into the world. The resulting tracks, if sometimes a little slower or less instantly-hooky than others, are all organically appealing in the way that thoughtful art always is.