Virginia singer-songwriter Natalie Prass was halfway through the recording of her second album when Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States. She was working on a break-up record, but was so distraught by the turn of world events that she simply couldn’t continue down that route. She told Rookie: “I felt like I didn’t know the country I lived in anymore.”
The official line is that ‘The Future and the Past’ has been conceived as a response to the Trump administration and its ingrained misogyny, as well as a call-to-arms in the wake of the #MeToo movement. That’s only partly true, given that half of the record consists of those original break-up tracks, while the newer material is, lyrically, non-specific in its call for empowerment. Like her 2015 debut, the album was produced by indie star Matthew E. White, at his Richmond, Virginia studio Space Bomb, which has become something of a musical mecca. Their goal: to produce an indie record that sounds like a lush, big-budget pop blockbuster.
‘The Future and the Past’ deviates from the low-key, ’60s-influenced country-pop of that first record, instead combining soul vocals with the slinky rhythm of G-funk and its accompanying taut, crisp percussion. Lacking the grit of its inspiration, this comes across as a knowing – and often charming – pastiche of those musical movements. Lead single ‘Short Court Style’ is a mini masterpiece, a virtuoso pop gem that twirls through the trials and tribulations of a long-term relationship: “Had ups and downs / No, but I can’t be without / My love that I have found.”
The album’s most successful tracks loosely adhere to this template: ‘Never Too Late’ slows the tempo to a glitzy waltz, while ‘Nothing To Say’ achieves depth with plaintive keys and melancholic string arrangements. Sometimes Prass deviates from the template entirely: with its tinkling keys and soaring vocals, ‘Far From You’ (“Why do birds suddenly disappear / Instead of singing here?”) sounds like something from a Disney soundtrack. The similarly airy ‘Lost’ points toward the album’s unevenness.
Over length of 12 tracks, the soul/G-funk stuff becomes a little one-note, while the Disney-fied material lacks the charm that makes Prass such an engaging, idiosyncratic performer. Rousing, semi-politicised stand-out ‘Sisters’, a call-to-arms that nods to Hilary Clinton (“I wanna say it loud /For all the ones held down…. C’mon nasty women”), points towards the record that ‘The Future And The Past’ could have been.