In previous years, I had been switched on by electronically inclined divas like Goldfrapp and head-kicked by power chord strumming lasses like Be Your Own Pet’s Jemina Pearl. Yet in 2007, I’ve lent my attention, at least in part, to jazzy, continental chanteuses like The Bird and the Bee’s Inara George, and the always delightful Leslie Feist, whose new album The Reminder still has me drunk on its soulful charms. So it should come as no huge surprise that I’ve just as easily become enchanted by the slow, sultry torch song of Israeli-born, Parisian-lived, New York located songstress Keren Ann Zeidel.
Zeidel is a soft and seductive singer, coating her varied and diverse compositions with the seductive touch of her alluring voice. Unlike George or Feist, however, her sound has a uniquely European feel, cool and laid back, steeped in Gainsbourg and Hardy, with just a bit of a North American touch, a la Lee Hazlewood. Zeidel even sang about half the songs on her previous album Nolita in French, thus taking her Parisian influences to a foreseeable end. On her fifth, self-titled album, the lyrics may all be in English, but the songwriter has certainly tapped into a certain European (by way of New York) haziness, doing away with some of the trip-hop influences that seeped into her repertoire.
Given that her first four albums were released in intervals of one year apart or less, this self-titled effort marks Zeidel’s first album after a recording break of three years, a first since she began recording solo. Her return is a lovely one, albeit a curious one, lazily plodding in with buzzing Velvet Underground-like guitar on “It’s All A Lie,” the chanteuse sounding pleasantly at odds with the messy, laid back crumbles of instrumentation, falling apart at the seams, yet remaining ultimately dreamy and, sure enough, pretty. The track that follows, “Lay Your Head Down,” has a more prominent, catchy melody, shuffling along with a soulfulness and sweetness that could earn her the sorts of accolades that Feist has been receiving of late. It’s a wonderful, memorable offering, as is “The Harder Ships of the World,” in which Zeidel’s sweet, restrained pipes guide a slowly building cocktail noir toward a mysterious and twinkling chorus. Zeidel even ventures into a sloppy, squealing indie rock march that’s as seductive as it is abrasive.
Much in the same way that her past albums have, Keren Ann’s self-titled fifth record provides listeners with a sampling of cocktail pop with one foot in both the jazz world and the one in which Lou Reed presently resides. And with rich, soulful offerings like “Between the Flatland and the Caspian Sea,” Zeidel reveals even more stylistic expansion. Yet as the album comes to a close with the fuzzy, funky, almost Bowie-like “Caspia,” Keren Ann goes one step further, by doing something that’s actually quite surprising.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.