Review Summary: Marshmallows are nobody's favorite food
On Spotify, Natalie Prass made the “Soul Sisters” playlist, a short 12 song affair borrowing from both great and obscure R&B singers. With this in mind, the influence of the soul/R&B/blues sound on this album is quite apparent to me. The song structure, the mournful lyrics and delivery, the instrumentation and build-up on the many of the tracks such as "Reprise", “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” or “Why Don’t You Believe Me” all echo classic soul music (in a distinctly white girl way). But as a big Diana Ross fan, I notice more striking similarity between Natalie and Diana. Somewhere past the sweeping vocal power of Diana Ross are quieter, almost spoken word, moments of introspection. The subdued sections on Diana’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Natalie’s “Reprise” sound like close musical relatives. While I’m sure that this by no means the only example, it exemplifies the comparison I’m trying to draw.
When I first made the connection, the influences this album worships become more and more evident. Prass draws heavily from them: I get strong whiffs of artists like Diana Ross/The Supremes, Etta James and most notably Carole King (among others). These strong inclinations cut both ways. The yearning, the graceful sorrow and subtle pacing/inflection of lovesickness/heartache, which is arguably best presented in this R&B format, is faithfully replicated in Prass’ music. The melodies float peacefully like a jellyfish balloon floating into the sky and the vocals are soft, warming, thoughtful, and thoroughly pleasant as the memory of these songs is refreshing in today’s smash and grab musical climate. However, the album is decidedly toothless, as there’s really nothing to make it unique or memorable. I would say there’s some modern white girl spin on it, but almost nothing stylistically that moves a modicum away from something readily established. If you’re going to emulate such revered artists without something distinguishing, ironically, the flatness of the music is going to stand out. The songwriting is nothing noteworthy, the vocal delivery never reaches beyond whispery exasperation and instrumentation, while diverse, don’t provide enough a relief.
That being said, the good, bread and butter elements of Prass are embodied on “Bird of Prey” with it’s catchy, bouncy sweetness and harmless panpiped (?) melodies. However, I think the most potential comes where the crumbs of individuality and vocal passion can be sparsely found. Tracks like “Violently” and “Why Don’t You Believe in Me?” are competent enough and are distinct enough to stand out among the discography but are crying just for that extra dose of something to make them memorable. To this effect, maybe borrowing from the greats and increasing the intensity to some kind of crescendo wouldn't be out of place or unwelcome. In this vein, I think “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” is the strongest fare, as Prass’ delicate beauty blends with energetic warbling (relative to the rest at least), accompanied with varied and appropriate supporting instrumentation combining into something resembling a fulfilling track.
However, not every track is so innocent or beyond reproach leveled at the lack of originality. In fact, the songs which sound the worst are the ones that sound somewhat different: namely, “Christy” and the final track “It Is You”. Both tracks sound like they’re stolen from some kind of scrapped Disney soundtrack about a girl mouse falling in love. The entirety of “Christy” is squeaked in high pitch timbres (which is not a trait that becomes endearing) and becomes the iceberg that sinks the entire track; complete with violins and harps sadly lamenting away in the background. But by far the most headscratching moment is the final track “It Is You”: a syrupy animated mouse soliloquy of a song which caused my ears great discomfort. Not only is it a comical change of pace after the perfectly adequate ending track, “Reprise”, but it is utterly saccharine and insipid in every way. It is like being locked in Guantanamo Bay with the Frozen soundtrack being blasted in your face every waking moment. An utterly baffling choice for an ending song, one which will leave a bad aftertaste in all but the most deaf or infantile of listeners.
All in all, this album is to me like a marshmallow. White, jet puffed sweetness which is all well and good if someone brings them to a campfire, but on reflection, they’re pretty bland and instantly forgettable (although maybe better if you had some other things to make s'mores with). Though harmless and inoffensive; let’s face it, nobody ever had a craving for plain marshmallows.