Natalie Prass' second album pairs the sharp and the smooth, its keenly observed lyrics about love and politics grounded in arrangements that recall soft-pop highlights from the past four decades. The Future and the Past is a modern echo of that moment when soft rock and Quiet Storm fed off each other – the plush yet firm yacht-y early-'80s keyboards on the wide-eyed "The Fire," simmering counterpoint bass on "Never Too Late," and the tinkling pianos and swooping strings of the weightless-sounding yet troubled "Far From You." "Short Court Style" sums up this cross-generational nostalgic vibe, evoking the Murder remix of J Lo's "I'm Real" as much as Rufus and Chaka's "Tell Me Something Good."
Of course, this is 2018, not the easygoing Seventies and Eighties. Still, lightness persists, even when Prass kicks off the dream-funk opener "Oh My" musing, "Are we losing our minds?" over rat-tat-tat guitars. That's largely thanks to her feathery voice, which turn even her more pointed observations about today's twisted landscape into stealth weapons. "Nothing to Say" turns an examination of the white noise cultivated by 24/7 news channels and social media into tart pop: "Everybody's talking but they don't know, don't know," a choir sings over arpeggiated guitar, and Prass replies, "ooh, but there's nothing to say." The closer "Ain't Nobody" frames its decidedly female-forward message ("I am the sources of my body's choices now") with percolating basslines and flanged guitars, while "Sisters" and "Hot For the Mountain" poke at deadbeat boyfriends, the wage gap and the glass ceiling with sing-song choruses and ruminative piano. The Future and the Past has a glossy, nostalgic sheen, but that only makes Prass' messages about getting past the world's current ills land harder.