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Keren Ann | Nolita (EMI)
A good friend who rarely discusses new music spoke of the low-key buzz surrounding Keren Ann's fourth album 'Nolita'. News to me. Soon after a learned pop pundit informed it was album of the year on Radio 4's evening arts review programme Front Row. Heck! Well we are a little late with this one and it's a fair question to ask why. That one vast music chain files it under World Music (which is darn silly) could partly explain its uneven exposure. Furthermore it seems to have made it onto very few if any radio playlists.
So who she? A Dutch singer songwriter, born in Israel, Russian Israeli dad, Dutch Javanese mom, relocated early on from Holland to Paris where she still lives part of the year when she's not in New York. She has released two French albums and an apparently celebrated English language one in 2003, 'Not Going Anywhere'. A fifth album concerns her Icelandic indie rock side project Lady and Bird whose self-titled album also appears on EMI International. (Reykjavik is a neat midway stopover I guess). An extremely elegant website (kerenann.com) will reveal a good deal about her thoughts and philosophies as well as the cool circles (Lou Reed, Francois Hardy etc.) that she moves in.
In art, especially music, there is often a fine line between melancholy and euphoria. There is also, sometimes, another recognisable dichotomy. One exemplified on 'Nolita'. This record may becalm some listeners and will, for all its luxurious arrangements and velvety production vex others. Proceedings kick off in a surely all pleasing style with the moderately fast paced Que n'ai- je? which has a sort of highly polished alt. country feel where Calexico support Francois Hardy. Such a vigorous and healthy vibe soon turns into a slightly neurotic, arty New York vibe only a few blocks away from Suzanne Vega. Most of the record also bizarrely recalls the influential '80s chanteuse Anna Domino, an artist who moved in the opposite direction, geographically speaking, from the US to Belgium to the same introspective, romantic ends.
Some tunes go from a to b and no further: the dreary, repetitive chorus of Greatest You Can Find spoils an otherwise pleasant tune; the tacky rhythm of Midi dans le Salon de Duchesse reminds you of all the awful pop music that the French wisely kept to themselves. Chelsea Burns may be sensuous to some but will not affect the sales of sheet music and La Forme et le Fond has a tune, an attitude and a bass line that may be cool for you but was missing any heart or soul to me.
None of the music is very original. So many people are recalled in the melodies themselves; Cat Power, John Martyn, Serge Gainsbourg etc. You can make your own list but fortunately you won't care who the antecedents were when, sometimes at least, some of the end results are rather lovely. Roses and Hips, the title track, One Day Without and L'Onde Amere are all good places to enter the dreamy world of Keren Ann. Apparently a new album is nearly complete and we look forward to it with some keen hopes.