Love hurts. If there’s nothing else to be learned of pop music, this lesson is ironclad. Opening yourself up makes you vulnerable, and making yourself vulnerable leads to pain. And that kind of pain is a universal feeling — a feeling that everybody knows, but somehow those with a guitar and a microphone have found a way to express just that much more articulately, and in a way that makes the pain more bearable. The Everly Brothers (as written by Boudleaux Bryant) distilled that expression down to the simplest, yet truest statement possible. And yet, someone’s always finding a new way to say that a broken heart heals slower than any other muscle, and making that anguish more poetic in the process.
Nashville singer/songwriter Natalie Prass has spent some time backing another artist with her own unique take on relationship woes — Jenny Lewis — but a quick look at the tracklist for her debut album reveals that Prass, herself, seems to share in the universal language of feeling bad. There’s “Your Fool,” and “Violently.” There’s “Never Over You,” and “My Baby Don’t Understand Me.” And perhaps most defeating of all in so few words, “Why Don’t You Believe In Me.”
Prass’ method of exorcising that emotional distress is a decidedly different tack than conventional punk-rock primal screams or sad-troubadour-with-a-guitar emoting. And while Prass hails from Nashville, she doesn’t play country music either, though you might hear some countrypolitan tones in the lush arrangements that splash each song with kaleidoscopic hues. The album was released on Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb Records, and Prass has the label’s roster of in-house musicians at her disposal, turning what could have been a hushed ballad in “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” into a vibrant and orchestrated chamber-pop wonder, only briefly thinning out those gorgeous layers of sound to let Prass return to the gut-punch refrain, “Our love is a long goodbye.”
Each track on the album vibrates with vintage tones, though not always in identical ways. At times the ’70s Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter sound resonates in Prass’ songs (“Your Fool”), in others she sheds the warm studio-pop sound for something more baroque (“Christy”), and on “Why Don’t You Believe in Me,” the strings that back her evoke classic Al Green or Isaac Hayes. And it’s to Prass’ credit that you can actually imagine the song fitting in on Green’s Call Me without squinting too hard; when she laments, “Wanna call you but I don’t, I want to be smarter,” there’s a real personal struggle happening, and she imbues it with an extra dose of soul. Most unexpectedly, however, is album closer “It Is You,” a sprightly and sweet waltz that echoes Disney musicals more than L.A. or Nashville vinyl vaults. It’s the kind of exclamation-addled ballad that soundtracks marriage proposals and fireworks, until you realize that the “you” in question is out of reach: “It has all been a ruin without you.” It’s a clever spin on what sounds like the perkiest and most romantic song here, but if anything, it just makes the loneliness sting just a little bit more. Love hurts, but sometimes it makes for beautiful catharsis.