Thursday, March 5, 2015

Natalie Prass - Natalie Prass (2015)

"Why Don't You Believe In Me?" might be the title of one of the standout tracks on Nashville singer/songwriter Natalie Prass' eponymous record out on Spacebomb Records earlier this year but for a short spell it was a fitting question towards the authenticity of her most recent efforts. Introduced to her predominantly through a cosign from Hundred Waters who asked her to open the Los Angeles stop of their tour currently in progress, I was intrigued enough by the incredibly Motown reminiscent arrangements on "Bird of Prey" to dig deeper. Bundled with a Janet Jackson cover I couldn't help but notice the similarities between Prass and Jackson's vocals in that they used their feather-light voices to their advantage - everything builds around them and nothing obscures them. It seems like such a no-brainer but often times that's hardly the case.

As I checked out the internet to find out who was this woman exactly - I read something that made my blood run cold: Natalie Prass press release. In its attempts to make her seem like a fun, anything goes musician of eclectic and rebellious tastes, it instead painted a picture of possible insincerity describing her Ryman Auditorium debut as she played a reggae set in front of an Isaac Hayes poster.

And yet it was her close association with Matthew E. White, a man who revels in genre-blending antics and tips his hat in the direction of the old school - often enlisting whole horn ensembles and string orchestras to fill out his arrangements that convinced me to go to distance and actually listen to the full album once it officially released. This might all see like conjecture but the perceived notion of inauthenticity is Prass' only deterrent.

Ultimately, if you listen to Prass' self -titled record, you'll find a record filled from front to back with an earnestness that's disarming and utterly beguiling. All notion that Prass isn't sincere in her soul-pop turn melts away as she crafts a startlingly accessible brand of heartbreak pop; her songs feel lived in as well they should. Prass' songs are fueled by moments of doubt, insecurity, and heart that feel too real to ignore. They seek out the drama of actual relationships, played realistically instead of using them for grander moments. The fact that they're often dressed up with orchestral flourishes does little to distract from their grounding in real emotion. Prass' songwriting manages to evoke tragic melancholy and fierce resolve often beats away from each other. "I never said I didn't want you knocking at door/All this run and chase, it's almost like I planned it" Prass builds up to on "Bird of Prey" in a moment that's staggeringly cunning. It's a moment of fiery firmness in the midst of repeated coos "of You don't leave me no choice but to run away" where Prass puts her foot down with a flash of steely resolve as she finally opts for the fight option of her primal response. That resolve follows naturally into "Your Fool" Prass' version of "That's It, I Quit, I'm Moving On". It's an impressive parallel to the inaction of album opener "My Baby Don't Understand Me".

Where the record could very well end with "Reprise" a mostly spoken outro of sorts not only to the album but also "Your Fool", Prass instead ends with "It Is You" a track that wouldn't feel at all out of place in a Disney movie. It's a sly wink to the Disney princess quality of her voice and the comparisons its garnered but where much of her self-titled aimed for subtle and subversive, this seems the most overt with its grand sweeping orchestral flourishes and its fantastical similes. For those who made it through the record thus far with stoic indifferent to its goings on, this is her last moment to charm and Prass goes big; goes epically grand actually and whether you get the conceit or not, it's bound to inspire some sort of reaction. Where the songs before it sought to invoke pathos through their rooting in real emotion, this last effort seeks to humanize through pure charm. It's a fitting end to record that spends so much time mucking about in fractured relationships; a sort of tension relief that goes grand to deliver its rather simple message: It'll all be alright.

Prass approaches her self-titled album with a refreshing sense of plotting. From the realization of "My Baby Don't Understand Me" to the retaliation of "Your Fool", to the pseudo-confrontation with the other woman in "Christy". The album not only has a stylistic sense of cohesion but also narratively so. It commits to its concept with an unwavering sense of purpose that makes you invested in just what Prass has to say and how she'll say it. Every song has a utterly delicious moment of peak songwriting and Prass plays them straight, her pristine vocals seeking out the emotional truth not just the dramatic flash. The production augments the songs instead of galvanizing them. It's to Prass credit that even through its lush, occasionally grand production that the record remains stunningly intimate and unassumingly sincere. Prass is a songwriting powerhouse with a knack for imbuing each song with indomitable heart  that elevates her above mere retro pop theatrics and that and that alone could and should be enough to silence any naysayers. All they need to do is listen.

Natalie Prass is out now on Spacebomb Records. You can order it now.

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