Review Summary: The very definition of "transitional."The Future and the Past
incorporates some strings in its execution, but that’s mostly where its similarities to Natalie Prass’ debut album begin and end. This ain’t the same baroque-inspired style we first heard from Prass; instead, she was inspired by recent events to flesh out her R&B elements and make them her predominant sound. The majority of the songs are punchy, energetic, and often loaded with flashy horns and synth lines that complement the dance-ready pop rhythms. The production is slick and streamlined, maintaining a steady focus on each facet of the dense instrumentation while retaining its accessibility in the meantime. That’s not to say everything here is accessible though; “Hot for the Mountain” is a strange little number that dishes up some dissonant piano chords while Prass lets out a wispy voice akin to a faint whisper, and “Ship Go Down” expertly juggles melancholy and confusion with its deft jazz-oriented piano chord changes. Still, this can all be considered a far cry from that debut record, which was often labelled as a “diet Disney” album by its detractors. And to be fair, that wasn’t an unfounded criticism; the album often seemed too preoccupied with its saccharine arrangements and artificially beautiful atmosphere to focus on actually writing interesting songs. The Future and the Past
has a clear focus on crafting tight jams that revolve around the things it should: Prass’ new experiments and - by extension - touches of stylistic diversity. She even dips her toes into some soul-inflected waters, the vocally multi-layered midtempo ballad “Never Too Late” and the mournful piano-laden crawl of “Lost” being the finest examples. Also, I have to give Prass kudos for not being too forceful or obvious with her political references here; she was reportedly inspired by recent events to go in this new direction, but the lyrics themselves are veiled thinly enough to get a pass.
Unfortunately, what often doesn’t
get a pass is Prass’ presence on this record. I get the feeling she’s still trying to shed her older style and persona, but it still sticks out like a sore thumb on many occasions. While her songs are dynamic and powerful at their most intense moments, she herself tends to sound too out-of-place. Her voice doesn’t sound confident or risky enough for the change she’s setting for herself; it’s a shame too, because it seeps into what would have otherwise been much better tunes. “Sisters” has a really fun midtempo funk-pop beat that’s led by a pounding piano/bass attack, but the multitracked chant “keep your sisters close to ya” just sounds resigned and bored in contrast. Similarly, “Fire” has some awesome booming horn lines in it, but Prass lends some dull willowy soft pop fluff in her voice that just doesn’t fit. Even the neat vocal harmonies don’t make it much better. To be honest, she doesn’t sound very comfortable
switching sounds yet. She clearly exhibits a desire to do so from an instrumental/songwriting perspective, but she needs to work on the way she leads and owns
her songs. I’m still willing to give The Future and the Past
a modest recommendation, but only a modest one. At the very least, it’s nice to hear Prass branch out and try something new. Here’s hoping she can really solidify and strengthen this new approach with her next effort.