You need to listen to: Natalie Prass' self-titled debut album
What is it: Nashville-based singer-songwriter Natalie Prass recently released her debut album on Spacebomb Records. It traces stories of the longing and grief surrounding relationships through nine expertly crafted songs.
Why you should listen: From its first song on, Natalie Prass is a spellbinding journey through heartbreak and difficulty. It's an earnest account of what it is like to be young, in love, and broken. But you wouldn't know that by Prass' tone. Without the words, the album is an uplifting, orchestral symphony of hope. The backing band is filled with brass instruments and woodwinds that fill Natalie Prass with frolicking melodies. Except this isn't a happy album. Not even a little bit.
The contrast between music and words is part of what makes this debut album so impressive. Prass has a voice nestled somewhere between young Dolly Parton and Disney Princess. She uses that soprano to sing lines like "You don't leave me no choice but to run away / You're a bird of prey / With a heart like midnight." The songs go down like honey, but the taste they leave behind isn't sweet. It's metallic.
The album was finished in 2012, but because Spacebomb is a small label, the album was bumped back and back. That means that the songs she's releasing now aren't even close to her newest work. "Violently," for example, was written in 2009. There's a video of her playing the song in 2010 on YouTube, for instance. "I just wanna know you/ violently," she lilts into the microphone.
"You go through so many changes, especially in your twenties. You’re growing so fast, learning, and there’s something kind of nice about how this song is still here," Prass told Grantland. "And I haven’t really played [‘Violently’] in years until now. But now, it’s appropriate again."
The album may be old work for the singer, but it certainly fits into what seems like a trend among singer-songwriters publishing this year. Natalie Prass is one voice in a chorus. Between Prass, Tobias Jesso Jr., Father John Misty, and staple indie rock leaders like Jenny Lewis (whom Prass sang back-up for on Lewis's last tour), there seems to be a kind of '70s singer-songwriter revival happening in 2015. They are all artists writing heartfelt songs full of swelling instrumentation that focus on diaristic experiences. What sets Prass apart is how honest her songs really sound. She isn't telling stories from her life, she's laying out in sound and word exactly how those moments felt.
Natalie Prass is at its weakest when the songs rely solely on Prass' voice and lack the incredible symphonic backing of most other tracks. Songs like "Why Don't You Believe Me" could wrench more hearts were her low notes a little lower and her tone a little raspier.
But Prass is at least somewhat aware of this, as she indicated in an interview with Pitchfork. "I don’t think I’m the most talented musician or the best singer, but I work really, really hard," she said. The fact that she knows these limitations upon the release of her debut album shows that she's the kind of artist that can and will grow.
Even with those minor caveats, from beginning to falsetto end, Natalie Prass is one of the best, most mature, debut albums released in a long time. It's lyrical, heartbreaking, and musically gorgeous. There aren't many singer-songwriters working with a three-dozen-piece band, but maybe more of them should be.
You'll know if you're in or out by ... The middle of the second song. If you've made it all the way through the deeply emotional, heartbreaking "My Baby Don't Understand Me," only to arrive at the walking, funky bass line of "Bird of Prey," and you aren't floored by the vocal range and emotional depth Prass is capable of, you won't like the rest of the album.