Natalie Prass: Natalie Prass review – a gem of a heartbreak album


You imagine psychotherapists probably get heartily sick of heartache – all those infidelities, those ugly power dynamics; the break-ups and the breakdowns that go with the counselling territory. Music fans could well feel the same way. There’s a lot of heartache about. If you could picture emotional baggage in pop, it would resemble some Heathrow luggage handlers’ strike-style mountain of love-gone-wrong songs – a peak only equalled in height and heft, perhaps, by the songs in which fools are falling in love. Or trying to get it on.

The thrush-like Natalie Prass, 28, has written a heartbreak album that reminds you why such albums are so wonderful and necessary in the first place. The break-up happens live, almost in real time. The chorus of the first track, My Baby Don’t Understand Me, was written by Prass in tears after one particularly bad row. Prass later emailed it to her now-ex – who co-wrote many of these other songs – an act which pretty much ended things. Strings weep along with her; horns elevate Prass’s romantic non-contiguity to the level of a minor epic.

Swathed in rococo strings, Christy, a kind of Jolene-style love triangle set in a chamber trio, was written well before the end. It imagines an infidelity that subsequently came to pass. “The only one she sees belongs to me,” sings Prass in a whispery trill full of suppressed drama.

The album these songs light up arrives after a bumper year in which Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen set high bars for the American indie confessional. Prass’s debut actually sounds like neither of these, and was finished well before the other two. Spacebomb, the studio-cum-label-cum-string factory where Prass recorded it, have been sitting on this gem for more than two years. Their time was taken up promoting another pearl – Spacebomb head honcho Matthew E White’s own artist album of 2013, which really was the best thing since amplification. Prass politely killed time playing in Jenny Lewis’s touring band and making clothes for dogs. The sultry horns, the groovy strings (courtesy of in-house string arranger Trey Pollard) and the southern sway of White’s record recur on Prass’s songs, which take their cues from old masters like Carole King and Dusty Springfield while sounding as fresh as the hurt in Prass’s voice.

On Bird of Prey, Prass’s ex is one evolutionary step along from a dinosaur, driving her away. A flock of flutes provide sad birdsong. Your Fool is seriously old-school, a waltzing doo-wop/soul nugget so good they included it twice, once as period drama, all vocal flutters and groaning cello, and on Reprise, as spoken-word with neoclassical feints and woozes, groovier handclaps and dubby jazz horns.

Things get funkier and more humid on Why Don’t You Believe in Me, set in the south somewhere between Prass’s Nashville home and the Virginia soil where she spent some time in an eighth-grade band with Matt White. Album closer It Is You ends things with a gay flourish that suggests a Walt Disney animation rather than mutual laceration. But by this point, softened up by the dulcet sweep of Spacebomb and Prass’s pensive artistry, you don’t mind the quirky little pirouette over the rainbow.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Natalie Prass review – pristine heartbreak tales
The Nashville singer-songwriter proved her mettle as a great country balladeer – and plenty of other things besides, writes Stevie Chick

Stevie Chick

29, Jan, 2015 @11:33 AM

Glasvegas: Euphoric /// Heartbreak \\\ – review
Glasvegas aim high on their second album but succumb to an overdose of bombast, writes Hermione Hoby

Hermione Hoby

02, Apr, 2011 @11:04 PM

Article image
Natalie Prass: Natalie Prass review – spellbinding country-soul
The American songwriter’s debut album has grandeur and sweetness to spare, writes Tim Jonze

Tim Jonze

22, Jan, 2015 @6:27 PM

Alexandra Burke: Heartbreak On Hold – review
Alexandra Burke's excessively Auto-Tuned second album is a repetitive collection of generic club tracks, says Hermione Hoby

Hermione Hoby

02, Jun, 2012 @11:05 PM

Article image
Teenage Fanclub: Endless Arcade review – heartbreak and joy
A devastating love song sets the tone for the Fanclub’s 12th album

Kitty Empire

02, May, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Niall Horan: Heartbreak Weather review – 1D’s quiet one comes good

Michael Cragg

15, Mar, 2020 @1:00 PM

Article image
Sharon Van Etten review – from heartbreak to heroine
The American indie star’s synth-rock transformation is thrilling

Kitty Empire

06, Jul, 2019 @1:00 PM

Article image
Andra Day: Cheers to the Fall review – pop-friendly pain and heartbreak

Isa Jaward

24, Apr, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
McBusted: debut album review – adolescent sentiments
The child-friendly supergroup’s debut album features adolescent sentiments and thrashy songs diluted for X Factor fans, writes Paul Mardles

Paul Mardles

30, Nov, 2014 @12:05 AM

Article image
Rosalía: Motomami review – energy and heartbreak from a first-class voice
The Spanish singer’s third album delivers gem after gem, as flamenco rhythms rub shoulders with sassy party flexes

Kitty Empire

20, Mar, 2022 @9:00 AM