Natalie Prass

The Future and the Past

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Natalie Prass is no stranger to soul music -- at times, her eponymous 2015 debut functioned as a de facto tribute to Dusty Springfield -- but The Future and the Past finds the singer/songwriter embracing a kind of soul that's not exactly embraced by the po-faced revivalists: the sleek, synthesized sound of the early '80s. Call this Prass looking into the future as much as the past, a move she telegraphs in the very title of this exceptional second album. Prass established her troubadour bona fides on her debut, yet that fine record occasionally seemed enthralled to the hazy vistas of Laurel Canyon, a sensibility that cannot be heard on The Future and the Past. Savvy and stylish, the album updates a number of classic sounds -- songs deliberately styled in a '60s tradition are draped in '80s fashion and vice versa -- which creates an appealing bit of cognitive dissonance: certain sounds and arrangements seem naggingly familiar, but Prass and co-producer Matthew E. White piece them together in a fashion that seems simultaneously fresh and familiar. As pure sound, this is a rich, enveloping experience, but the record endures not only because the songs are so strong, but because Prass is so confident here that she seems to swagger. Her voice remains light and airy, but there's a gritty, soulful bent to her phrasing, and she takes chances with her songwriting. Sometimes, her lyrics may be a little too on the nose -- a fault that plagues the otherwise appealing "Sisters" -- but her musical skills are so fluid and sharp, she makes heavy-handed moments seem light. The result is an impressive step forward, an album that finds Natalie Prass straddling the border between the future and the past, just as she promised.

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