Keren Ann

Nolita

(Blue Note Recordings; 2005)

By Dom Sinacola | 18 August 2007

There’s something really nice about Nolita. Something really satisfying, something I can’t put my finger on. I’m not thinking long term when I enjoy this album, not thinking about marriage, children, a two-car garage and dog with a mortgage. Not thinking the American Dream or very coherently at all.

There’s something brief about Keren Ann’s work, something that tastes too smooth to really think about afterwards. Her voice reminds me of a long night of drinking, being disappointed after stopping at 5:30, after planning to drink longer. It’s like touching the one person you haven’t touched on your block, waiting all night and then laying down, close, only to sleep in your clothes. It’s like everything implied in paying lonely attention to roses and to her hips, and forgetting what they look like in the morning. Like patience and anticipation for the sake of themselves.

Keren Ann Zeidel was born in Israel, lived in Holland, settled in Paris, and recorded much of her latest LP (Not Going Anywhere on Blue Note:2004, La Disparition, La Biographie de Luka Philipsen: 2002) in New York’s lower Manhattan Nolita neighborhood. I enjoy her, I find her pleasant even though I’ve never been to these places or this neighborhood. I could go there sometime, spend a sort of life submerging myself in the innocent flirtations of its lofts and its streetlamps and its pillows. I could, but I can wait, too. I have enough for the time being.

Because “Nolita” inches closely to something like a melodramatic binge, uses strings programmed to surge, whine, and shake away Keren Ann’s desperate whispers. This comes after a long moan of plucked guitar, after she repeats, “…think I’m gonna bury you…,” and I find comfort in this, in knowing that the patience exerted on wading through her slowly coached reverb is so pleasant. And then “Roses & Hips” harangues through the soft light, from around the corner, claiming dominance on thin, snappy percussion, on an immaculate harmonica and fingernailed slide guitar. This is neat, but “Nolita’s” swoon is all but lost.

Keren Ann, she hides things-jewels, maybe, if they weren’t so escapist-throughout her Nolita, like the exaltant chorus of herselves at the end of the tin can lite rock “Greatest You Can Find"; or the rising fleshy guitar feedback that swarms from under her piano and eventually becomes too thick to keep calm; or the um’s and ah’s between Sean Gullette’s lazy reading of a “Song Of Alice,” tucked under a cystic guitar; or how “Que N’ai-Je” (“What Don’t I Have”) veers from morose alien jazz to sharp gothic dirge; holes poked in her voice, poked out through the back of her throat.

There’s something really nice about her neighborhood, something so effortless that I miss my own neighborhood --- a version of my own Chicago street where everything hurts that much more and where I know the street that much more intimately just by hustling drunkily down it. I appreciate that: Nolita as the slow drawl from sleep, where the night’s surprises become jokes become dreams become warm sensations that are hard to just about place. Keren Ann’s songs work that briskly, that hardly --- as in almost registering, almost leaving a mark, but resigning when it becomes obvious that all is just not meant to be awake. There is a skewering of strings, a glowering of guitar, something in French, and then there’s the morning --- a time when I could say I can’t put my finger on much:

Nolita as the only way to wake up in a loud city. Keren Ann as a hard drink, early, with orange juice to take the edge off, and everything that implies.