I was bouncing around Barnes & Noble yesterday, and I wandered into the media section. My local B&N has a decent selection, with a middling to large classical and soundtrack department, an understandably large pop/rock section, and a smallish collection of world music that nevertheless encompasses more than your average Youssou N'Dour and Angelique Kidjo coffee-house blends.
Anyway, I came across two albums of new music that could be classified as world music, I suppose, although that genre title never seems to really mean anything. The first was the album Asuncion by Pacifika; the second, Fraise Vanille by Helena. They're albums that come from two distinct areas and have two very distinct textures, but are both very relaxing, yet also energizing. I think they're both very zen albums, and by that I mean that they allow me to relax to the point where I can access energy that I might not have realized that I had.
Pacifika begin their album with "Sol", a chanted song over strings, and follow that with "Me Cai" which is layered and rhythmic. "Me Cai" is a perfect summer song, with a lush acoustic quality. "Chiquita" takes the third spot on Asuncion, and flickers and strobes like a bonfire. "Sweet" is the token English-language song, and although it doesn't achieve much beyond its album siblings, it's still a fine song in its own right, with a fair amount of the sweetness that inspires its title. "Paloma" is a party song with an intense Latin flavor and sensuality that make it intoxicating; and, "Mas Y Mas" is a ballad with grungey backing guitars, that lend an attractively unorthodox distortion to Silvana Kane's vocals. "Estrellas de Miel" sounds gypsy-jazz influenced, and the guitars achieve an exquisite backdrop that often sounds like falling raindrops. "Libertad" circles upon itself, as the lyrics argue and debate the sanity of love, and finally just give in to its inevitability. "Cuatro Hijas" is a lullaby tinged with sadness, and "Oyeme" is purely joyful and celebratory. The final track - "Las Olas" - contains some finality, a stain of melancholy, and a bouquet of hope for more music in the near future. Pacifika is quite a band, and they expertly control the mood of their new album Asuncion. Listen and be soothed.
Then of course we have Helena, whose album is pure French pop. The delivery is sunshine and lollipops and flowers in the French countryside, with only a handful of songs hinting at even the concept of Parisian night-life. This is far from the Moulin Rouge. "Le Tourbillon" starts with the album with a perfect highlight of the softness and musical quality of French. With only a flute accompanying her voice at an echoing distance, Helena sounds just the way I imagine Vianne, in Chocolat. Skip ahead to "Adieu Ma Vie", and hear neither sadness nor bitterness in this goodbye, only soft and certain surrender. "Tout Morose" is the fifth song on the album, and wanders carnivalesque through your mind without seeming to have an absolute direction in mind. It's a laid-back song that asks you to take a journey that is important only because of the experience of traveling, not because of the destination. "La Vie De Cocagne" has a vampy horn and percussion sound, while "J'ai La Memoire Qui Flanche" floats down a river of memories in a jaunty little boat. "Caresse-moi J'adore Ca" is enchanting and simple, and the final song - "Minuit Orly" - is a sweet finish to an equally sweet album. Helena sings well, but also has a way of making these songs glow and flow smoothly through your mind. Maybe she has an amazing producer, or maybe she's just an amazing talent. Whatever the reason, Fraise Vanille is an amazingly relaxing album.