The nine songs of Natalie Prass’ eponymous debut LP feature elaborate tapestries of full orchestration, and the Nashville-based songwriter occupies more than just their centers; each composes a giant headshot of her striking a different expression. Prass—a close affiliate of Jenny Lewis, The Gaslight Anthem, and Matthew E. White (the album’s producer)—has played big supporting roles for years, and now she’s given her first solo exhibition the full diva treatment. What makes it good is her sophisticated ear for pop arrangements. What sets it apart is her gracefully authoritative, hyper-emotive, and at times semi-animal personality brought out through a masterfully controlled and gloriously weird set of pipes.
Across these songs, Prass unleashes several sides of herself with the same delicacy in her tone, and it can throw listeners for loops. One moment she’s a fleeing target in “Bird Of Prey,” which offers the best-sounding first 12 seconds of any debut single you’re likely to hear. The next, on “Violently,” she’s the predator: “I just want to know you violently,” she sings, gently. “I’ve had enough of talking politely.” Prass never stops embracing and defending the volatility that carries this album, one over which she somehow maintains a great deal of control. She’s heartbroken, she might be going crazy, she knows it, and just because she’s turning it loose doesn’t mean she doesn’t know exactly what she’s doing.
Even when transparently jealous on the album’s clear dark point, “Christy,” Prass holds strong to her falsetto—maybe even reaching an extra degree or two of enunciation—and lets swells of charcoal-toned cellos illustrate her sinister side. But the album’s two bookends, the highlight opener “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” and Disney-core closer “It Is You,” hit with such open-sky pop directness they almost make the case that her bright side is the only side she needs.