Sunday, 25 January 2015
Going into 2015 there were many albums I was anticipating, and this was not one of them. To be fair, I hadn't heard of Nashville-based songstress Natalie Prass until a week or so ago, but the more I discover the more I kick myself for not knowing about her sooner. The term 'Nashville-based' instantly invites affiliations with country music, a genre I personally find rather tedious and dated (thankfully this record is anything but). It would be difficult to ignore that there are traces of country music throughout this record, but it is done in a subtle and tasteful manner which blends seamlessly into the record's aesthetic. Listening to this record you'd think Prass was one her twelfth release, which makes this debut even more impressive.
The album opens in a grand style with the epic 'My Baby Don't Understand Me', easily the best track on the album which sets the standard for 2015, let alone the record it opens, impeccably high. “Our love is a long goodbye” she sighs over gently pulsating strings, horns and woodwinds (courtesy of Muscle Shoals, the Spacebomb house band), which soar in the chorus as she asks “What do you do when that happens / where do you go? / when the only home that you know is with a stranger”. Many, if not all, tracks on this record follow this progressive and grand style, yet the album remains diverse and exciting throughout.
Soul and country are not the only styles Prass experiments with however, 'Christy' toys with Joanna Newsom-style baroque pop with twinkling harp flourishes, rich string arrangements and Prass' enchanting upper-register. Elsewhere the excellent 'Why Don't You Believe In Me', one of the more confrontational tracks, incorporates a multitude of different styles including soul, R&B, jazz and pop. Prass also dips her toe (albeit briefly) into the avant garde pool on the track 'Reprise', which would've fit seamlessly on Julia Holter's groundbreaking Loud City Song with it's fluttering melody and off-kilter vocal delivery. The closing track 'It's You' is so sweet it could give you toothache on repeating listens, channeling Snow White/Disney princess chamber pop. Though the arrangements of these tracks differ, the sentiment is the same; these are 9 fully developed, compelling and masterfully produced love songs with a backbone.
What tops this album off is its rather unique back story; if you are wondering why this record sounds so nostalgic and warm, it could be because it was in fact recorded years ago...three to be exact. Since 2012 it had been sitting with Matthew E. White's Spacebomb label, who cruelly kept it under raps in order to promote the latter's 2012 breakthrough record Big Inner, and rightfully so, that album was a masterpiece in its own right. And even though White is releasing his new record later this year (which I'll be reviewing too), to me 2015 finally is Prass' time to shine. With such an accomplished debut, is see no reason why whatever she releases in the future won't be even better, as long as she's used this time productively, I'm expecting big things from this rising chanteuse.
Best Tracks: My Baby Don't Understand Me, Christy, Why Don't You Believe In Me, Violently, Reprise, It's You