Album Review: Songwriter Natalie Prass impresses with originality on self-titled debut

If 2014 was dominated by the likes of Lana Del Rey, Lykke Li and Meredith Graves—who sang poignantly on bargaining, depression and the anger of dying love—then Natalie Prass carries a satisfying kind of self-acceptance to the stage in 2015.

Singer-songwriter Natalie Prass’s self-titled debut album, which was released on Jan. 26, stands on a razor’s edge from beginning to end. Yes, the lyrics on the album are about hurt and outrage, but they are sung with surprising comfort and ease. “So tonight when you’re out, you’ll come back to an empty house with a note signed, ‘Sincerely, your fool,’” Prass sings casually on “Your Fool,” shrugging off the drama in that line before it’s even past.

The sheer scope of instrumentation on Natalie Prass complicates the songs stylistically; we hear plunger-muted trumpets over woodwinds and sleepy crooning over minuets, resulting in a blues at once retro and completely new. The end-product is classic soul seen through Judee Sill’s own rose-tinted glasses, with bits and pieces from everything else you’ve ever heard—from Schoenberg to Phil Spector, from Laurel Aitken to Roger Waters. Most impressive however, is Prass’s success at jamming this tasteful diversity of sound together in an album that clocks in at under 40 minutes.

“My Baby Don’t Understand Me” is a perfect introduction: a micro version of the album itself. Intense lyrics and broad instrumentation imbue it with all the theatricality of some Disney princess monologue, but the song somehow comes off as anything but overdone.

If there is such a concept as the female gaze, it is utilized in “Christy.” The song’s ballroom dance sound and meditative lyrics pause the album’s action to give image to a speaker spying on her lover’s and the titular Christy’s affair. It’s borderline obsessive, but here Prass maintains the tone of someone enjoying herself, savoring her vantage point as though there is some twisted power in doing so.

The lyrics in “Violently” are about as violent as one would expect. First, there is discord in lines like “I want to reach out, but I don’t know which way.” Later, Prass sings about breaking her own arms because they are capable of holding her lover. But this is easily the most beautiful song on the record—and the least energetic. Here, Prass’s voice shrinks to a slight, cool whisper, forcing us to strain to hear her angst.

At a cursory listen, “It Is You” might come off as a fairytale ending. In the context of the rest of the album, however, it is the most depressing point in Prass’s story—if we can call this a story at all, that is. The speaker happily catalogues metaphors for her romantic attachment while, meanwhile, the listener has by now gleaned plenty of prior knowledge as to how love pays off for her.

It is rare for any art form to get across a view of love or loss that comes off as fresh, but the thematic trapeze act that is Prass’s debut accomplishes this and then some. Prass has produced an album that is larger than life, but not gluttonous. Natalie Prass shines because it satisfies deeply and in a way that any album, let alone a debut, rarely can.


Rating: 4.5/5