Natalie Prass’ new release The Future and the Past is well titled. The songs’ lyrics concern impending events of a personal and political nature (depending on the song). The music’s rhythms recall the dance-pop the late ’80s and ’90s. Janet Jackson reportedly was a major influence. And while Prass found it unnecessary to say, the record is firmly in the present moment. That is true in the entertaining way she portrays what’s going on as well as the surprising manner in which she conveys emotional depth through seemingly superficial trappings.
To put it more simply, the record rocks and offers insightful commentary on the world we inhabit. Prass looks ahead and frets about what might happen and looks to yesterday for precedents. “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution,” feminist anarchist Emma Goldman reportedly said. That could serve as the motto here. From the very beginning of the album, Prass gets her groove on. The opening track “Oh My” begins with drums and synth, before a scratchy guitar riff and an ooo-ooo chorus joins in—and then the vocals come. The song is a diatribe about the current state of the world from both an ecological and political perspective. “Seems like every day we’re losing / When we chose to read the news,” she sings with a heartbreaking ache. The death of the bee population, global warming, fake news, etc. are the new normal. Prass might be saying something we already know, but she does it to a sophisticated dance beat.
Even with the more intimate songs, such as the passionate “The Fire” and the sultry “Short Court Style”, rhythms lie at the tracks’ heart. She uses strong R&B arrangements to create beats that evoke one’s physicality. Prass might be singing about a higher love, but it’s one whose corporeal interactions raise the body and the soul. She wants the listener to feel it physiologically.
Of course, life is more than just politics or sex. Sometimes it’s both! Prass addresses the problem of sexism—when one is identified purely by one’s physical appearance—on “Sisters”. She offers concrete examples in her anthem for women to join together as on the telling verse: “One time for our girls at school / Who can’t get ahead no matter what they do / And when they grow up and they try to work / Oh no, but they ain’t nothing but the shorter skirt.” Prass is not teaching as much as preaching to her female audience. The bouncy instrumental accompaniment serves to motivate and encourage.
The ship of state is going down. One would have to be blind not to see the signs. They are in bright neon all around us. What does one say about a wolf in wolf’s clothing that is not obvious? The positive aspects of American progressive thought are in decline, and the zealots have taken over. Prass suggests that we can look and listen to what came before for sustenance. Her paean to Karen Carpenter (“Far From You”) works as a concrete example as Prass compares what was to what is in specific terms of beauty. The present may not be what it used to be. Music can give us solace and inspiration, and we can love and support each other.
So let’s raise a glass and make a toast, Prass suggests. The future may look bad, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Together we can make things better. Come here, baby she intimates. Let’s lift our spirits together.