The Spacebomb singer’s righ­teous po­lit­i­cal funk and anti-Trump epics are bril­liantly ex­e­cuted,


Natalie Prass’s postTrump cathar­sis. Plus, Fa­ther John Misty, Gruff Rhys, Janelle Monáe, Johnny Marr, Nas, Ray LaMon­tagne, Wilko John­son and more.

Natalie Prass The Fu­ture And The Past

Though pa­tience may not come nat­u­rally to her, the wait­ing game has served Natalie Prass well. She spent nine years on the pe­riph­ery of the Nashville mu­sic scene, study­ing song­writ­ing at nearby Mid­dle Ten­nessee State Uni­ver­sity, scor­ing work as a ses­sion singer, and try­ing to re­alise her dream of mak­ing an al­bum that fused Brill Build­ing song­writ­ing with a Mo­town/Stax sen­si­bil­ity. She flunked out on that last aim, un­til she left Nashville and re­con­nected with old school-friend Matthew E White, then pur­su­ing sim­i­larly pie-in-the-sky dreams of start­ing a la­bel, as­sem­bling a fear­some house band and cut­ting his own records of idio­syn­cratic, anachro­nis­tic soul. To­gether, they recorded an al­bum of Prass’s songs, an early White project by his nascent Spacebomb op­er­a­tion, pro­duced on spec in the hope some record la­bel might li­cense it. By the time Prass’s epony­mous de­but fi­nally saw re­lease in 2015 (fol­low­ing White’s own ac­claimed break­through, Big In­ner), it had spent three years gath­er­ing dust. While pro­mot­ing the LP – a be­guil­ing set that en­com­passed lis­som South­ern soul, cob­webby gothic coun­try and one per­fect sucker punch of lachry­mose heartache, My Baby Don’t Un­der­stand Me – Prass re­vealed she’d al­ready penned two al­bums’ worth of new ma­te­rial while wait­ing for it to come out. Her con­certs, mean­while, saw her leaven the pre-dig­i­tal ’70s soul swel­ter of the Spacebomb aes­thetic with a cover of Any Time, Any Place, a seamy slow jam from the youngest Jack­son fam­ily mem­ber’s 1993 al­bum, janet. – ev­i­dence of in­trigu­ing new in­flu­ences Prass might add to the for­mula for the fol­low-up. Prass was sched­uled to record that sec­ond al­bum in the sum­mer of 2016, be­fore her best-laid plans un­rav­elled and the ses­sions were post­poned, and then post­poned again. She fi­nally en­tered the stu­dio that De­cem­ber, by which time a con­tentious Amer­i­can elec­tion – and the tu­mult of re­sul­tant misog­yny – left Prass heart­sick and sure that new ma­te­rial would no longer be timely. She junked all but one of those songs (Noth­ing To Say), and vis­ited White’s house ev­ery sin­gle day. “We would talk, and I would write,” Prass tells MOJO. “And it helped me sort through my feel­ings. It was ther­a­peu­tic for me; I des­per­ately needed it.”


This lat­est de­lay, which she now says “felt like fate”, turns out to be the mak­ing of The Fu­ture And The Past, a fol­low-up that strides de­ci­sively be­yond the po­ten­tials sketched out by her de­but. En­gag­ing with our cur­rent dark epoch in a per­sonal, in­ge­nious way, it’s an al­bum that’s cere­bral and from the heart in the same mo­ment, with­out any sense of con­tra­dic­tion. That Janet Jack­son cover was no red her­ring. The mu­sic here pushes the Spacebomb sound out of its lush, Wil­lie Mitchell-de­rived cul-de-sac and con­nects with a more mod­ernist muse: Short Court Style, The Fire and Ain’t No­body put that in-house group and their strings in the ser­vice of bristling funk and deliri­ous soul, like Jam & Lewis pro­duc­tions given ar­ti­sanal refits. The bliss­ful Never Too Late feels like it slipped off side two of Jack­son’s Con­trol, with its stac­cato key­board stabs, its an­gelic trilling syn­the­siz­ers, a mid­dle eight that fell from heaven, and Prass haunt­ing the up­per regis­ters. Her vo­cal melodies swoop and soar with the poise and gym­nas­tic skill of an Ameriie, though only ever for sake of the song, never just for show. The sur­face of The Fu­ture And The Past is im­pres­sive, then, but the sub­stance is sub­lime, her lyrics so­phis­ti­cated and skil­ful. Far From You rewrites The Car­pen­ters’ break­through hit to eu­lo­gise Karen, whose pris­tine soul­ful­ness Prass of­ten evokes (“Why do birds sud­denly dis­ap­pear/In­stead of singing here?” is an­other of her dev­as­tat­ing cou­plets). Else­where, Prass de­liv­ers hymns to persistence in the face of dark­ness, evad­ing polemic in favour of the po­etic, and all the more pow­er­ful for that. Sis­ters is as ex­plicit as the mes­sage gets, pos­sessed of a righ­teous enough slink that it could be the work of Erykah Badu, a post-#MeToo an­them, the cho­rus call­ing to the “nasty women” (an­other Janet call­back) to “keep your sis­ters close”, the verses tak­ing aim at the gen­der pay gap, sex­ual ha­rass­ment and do­mes­tic abuse. Hot For The Moun­tain ex­pands on the theme – with an in­fec­tious cho­rus of “We’ll take you on/We can take you all” – while widen­ing the al­bum’s mu­si­cal can­vas: eerie Eastern melodies, strings lifted from Kashmir, melt­ing pi­ano chords. It’s a dry run for the al­bum’s true mas­ter­piece, Ship Go Down, six-min­utes of lop­sided me­tre, jazzy ex­plo­ration, and an or­ches­tra rum­bling like a dis­tant storm. Prass’s vo­cals obey their own er­rant rhythms through­out, play­ful like vo­calese but car­ry­ing her heav­i­est lyric on the al­bum: part-elegy/part-warn­ing of a dis­as­ter in progress, a na­tion sink­ing un­der its own folly, a “wolf in wolf’s cloth­ing” at the helm. Its wild, bleakly beau­ti­ful psych-Trop­icália cli­max evokes the dark­est of rap­tures. The track is mas­ter­ful, re­call­ing im­pe­rial-era Joni Mitchell (though more in the spirit of her am­bi­tion and abil­ity, her re­fusal to be teth­ered to any song­writ­ing or­tho­doxy, than sound), its bite an­chor­ing the rel­a­tive sweet­ness of the rest of the al­bum. In­deed, in both modes (and in its sense of bal­ance), The Fu­ture And The Past is a tri­umph, a com­ing-of-age that over-de­liv­ers on all Prass promised, and sug­gests lim­it­less skies in an­swer to where she might go next. How­ever long it takes, on this ev­i­dence it will be worth the wait.

Il­lus­tra­tion by Steve Rawl­ings.

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