Keren Ann: Nolita

Jill LaBrack

A unique possible Big Hit, but the obvious talent within does not hit its full potential.

Keren Ann


Label: Blue Note
US Release Date: 2005-03-15
UK Release Date: 2005-02-28
Amazon affiliate

Here's the good news: the casual music listener -- those who own Norah Jones, Michael McDonald, and one of the Rod Stewart Songbook collections -- will soon be buying Keren Ann's latest release, Nolita, a recording rife with the influence of the Velvet Underground. If all goes well with Nolita's marketing campaign, and Blue Note should have the money to pull it off, the dinner-party-music buying public will be lured in, transfixed by the smooth sounds of Keren Ann's breathy voice and the total competence of the music that backs it up. And this is OK. The aforementioned consumer would fare well to have an accomplished record such as Nolita in their collection. It is pretty, mesmerizing, and occasionally even compelling.

The bad news (and it's not that bad) is that Nolita does not offer much to the serious music fan other than a few magical moments and the tag of "has future potential". There's no reason to take Nolita off once on, but when it's over it largely dissipates from the mind. This is disappointing, as much of Keren Ann's record is so close to passionate. It betrays the studious listener by seemingly focusing on competency and overall mood. Songs that should break away for a moment from their own rhythm, don't. Keren Ann Zeidel's vocals never stray from deliberate detachment. The first single, "Greatest You Can Find", plays like manipulative label intervention. The song is easy and dull, the chorus stealing the bulk of the song; an updated version of Norah Jones's "Come Away With Me". "One Day Without You" follows the same blueprint (repetition, numbness), but manages to be slightly less slick. "Midi Dans le Salone de la Duchesse" sounds like a sound byte from a McDonald's commercial. One can practically smell the fries.

To be fair, there are great moments. The opener, "Que N'Ai-Je?", is provocative in its yearning. "Chelsea Burns" moves from top-notch Mazzy Star to a breathtaking country lament. The true stunner is the seven-minute title track. With few lyrics ("Think I'm gonna bury you"), the song lets the extended instrumental movement portray emotion, then ends with pained, frantic breathing. It's the closest Ms. Zeidel comes to losing inhibition, and it is powerful.

With her unique voice and the subtle, professional musicianship, Keren Ann's Nolita should be more with the sum of its parts. And, at times, it does resonate. Mostly, though, the mood drives the recording rather than the more effective method of believing in the songs enough to let them create an overall mood of their own. It's evident that Keren Ann could someday release something as artistic and beautiful as Astrud Gilberto's I Haven't Got Anything Better to Do or Nico's Chelsea Girl. For now, the positive needs to be noted again. Nolita may sell many copies to a specific audience, and that audience may very well be hearing the filtered strains of the Velvet Underground for the first time. This is important enough to stop and take notice. Keren Ann's musical heart is in the right place, she just needs to uncover it a bit more.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.