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Natalie Prass’ self-titled debut is lightning in a bottle

Sometimes the best or most interesting releases of the year fly under the radar. In The Catch Up, we shine a light on the films and albums we missed at first glance.

“I don’t feel much / I’m afraid I don’t feel anything at all.”

The biggest winner is that voice. All sorrow, years of it, bounded up together in a glorious and delicate symphony. It’s a debut album that emerges from nowhere, the kind of record that just appears and… then… just… is! Forever, trapped alongside timeless greats like Dusty in Memphis, What’s Goin’ On, In My Own Time.

The timeless quality equates to the songwriting skill. Though Natalie Prass’ debut contains obvious reference points – Dusty Springfield, Disney princesses – her album sounds neither from the past nor from any discernable present. She borrows ideas from pop stars and songwriters throughout music history and bundles them together, using her voice as the ultimate tool in coalescing them.

And she sings like her soul is on fire. Like everything she has ever known and loved is disappearing before her eyes. We can hear her choke as she sings, as if each word cuts her throat upon release. Dizzying and intricate melodies ride up and down the scales, Natalie guiding the listener cautiously from note to note. I listen with bated breath, weaving threads of her story together. Who hurt you, Natalie? Who caused you such pain?

Prass pens the death of a long-term relationship with more understanding and maturity than those twice her age. She tackles clichéd themes gracefully. She sings like someone who has had their life drained by a single unstoppable force. On “Violently”, without question the most harrowing track on the album, the lyrics of the chorus perfectly captures the record’s stylised sorrow:

I’ll break my legs
‘Cos they want to run to you
I just want to love you violently
I’ve had enough of talking politely.

This isn’t earth-shattering poetry. She’s no Patti Smith. But something about Natalie’s delivery transcends these words. She uses simple and understandable language and sings so delicately and perfectly that every sentence that escapes her mouth reaches the ears fully formed.

Speaking of ears, mine are extremely grateful every time I play this record. I’ll never forget the first time I listened to this thing with headphones and a joint. It blew my fucking mind. Every sound tickled my ossicles, melting into my stirrup, travelling the length up and down my spine and ultimately landing in a warm and cozy place deep inside my soul.

The careful production is reminiscent of the big soul sound of the 70s. Producer Matthew E. White owns a massive fuck-off studio somewhere in Richmond, Virginia and uses the same techniques that shot his debut record Inner Circle to the top of many critics’ end-of-year lists. I imagine the studio stuffed to the wall with all sorts of analogue gear. Vintage amplifiers and carefully chosen equipment spread neatly across the wooden floor of an open padded building. You can hear it on the record. Everything is perfect. Neat. Succinct. Wonderful.

Listen to the opening minutes of “Why Don’t You Believe in Me?”. Listen as those gorgeous piano notes slowly creep in under that thumping drum beat and badass bass line. Listen to those swirling flutes on “Your Fool”. They’re everywhere! Those flutes sound like they belong in a fucking MBV song! Fuck! How?

Natalie Prass and Matthew E. White, the ultimate harmony. They suit each other so perfectly, like Eno and Roxy Music, Spector and the girl groups. It is no surprise that Natalie Prass remains one of the most critically successful releases of the year. Get it in your life now, I guarantee it will never leave.

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