31 January, 2008

V'la l'Bon Vent

There's sometimes an enchanting quality to music from abroad. The lyrics don't have to be de-Anglicized, the sound can even be similar to that found in a Seattle coffee shop, but that hint of an accent or that small scent of a wind from another country can be just the stimulation the musical community needs. Appropriate then that the new Mac Air is being sold to the sound of one Yael Naim who can combine the sounds of France, Israel, and that aforementioned coffee shop into her single "New Soul".

On her self-titled album, Yael Naim manages to cross borders with every song. She begins with "Paris", a soft lullaby to the city of love. It sounds like the kind of song that would put anyone in a good mood, but would be especially potent on a sunny, spring morning by the river Seine. "Too Long" is a sadder song, one tinged with bitter-sweetness. It's followed by the stunning "New Soul", that is almost carnivalesque in its spirit. We find here the lilting horns and the flying chorus of "la la la la la la". Lyrically, this song just soars. Even when Yael's English fails to translate perfectly, the sentiment is so strongly applied to the entire essence of the song, that you can't help but feel like a little weight has been lifted from your shoulders when you listen.

After the gorgeous arrival of "New Soul", I was a bit worried for the rest of the album. It was inevitable that Yael Naim incorporate Hebrew into her songs, but could her voice - so pleasantly light and airy - withstand the guttural deluge of syllables that forms this language? On "Levater", Yael answers with a resounding yes. Yael demonstrates that she can both withstand the guttural intonations that could collapse even the most perfect diction, and raise the language to a different height of beauty. I've listened to a lot of music sung in Yiddish and Hebrew, quite a lot of it is good and some of it fails to be anything but distracting. Naim strikes a balance between raising the sound of the language to a praiseworthy level, and not losing herself, her spirit and voice, in the bargain. It's a tightrope walk that ends most pleasantly, with the walker intact and the audience in awe.

The album in full reminds me most of a strong but fleeting wind. The aroma is undeniable and the spirit catchy and appealing. Yael Naim makes you want to travel and explore the world that you glimpse in snatches through her songs; but for now you can just relax with your headphones and watch this good wind go.

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