Review : Keren Ann - 101
PopmattersKeren Ann is working with a beguiling instrument: a flat and airy voice that wafts through her songs. It’s a limitation but also a signature, and Keren Ann threads her dreamy sound across the ten songs of 101 with confidence and cunning.
Keren Ann Zeidel grew up in Israel, Holland, and Paris, and her music contains traces of European dance pop, Serge Gainesbourg, Jewish folk melodies, Suzanne Vega, and floating psychedelia. She’s been recording for over a decade, mostly in French for a while, but recently in English while splitting her time between Europe and the US. Her last four releases have come out on Blue Note, but her music is neither vocal jazz nor Norah Jones-style adult pop. Rather, it is a sly and smart kind of indie-pop.
Given a decent chance, it will suck you in.
101 has a gentleness about it that suggests “folk music”, but most of the collection is both more modern and more layered than any folk. A typically charming song, for example, is “All the Beautiful Girls”, which starts with finger-picked acoustic guitars, gentle piano, and drums whispered by brush strokes. With lyrics that refer to girls who “want to stay late / And finish the wine in your luxury basement / ... and like debate Pollock and Kline, Ginsberg and Corso” you might feel comfortably in a ‘60s folk bag. But you would be wrong. The music soon enough brings in some kind of low brass and then a small string section that slowly dominates the arrangement, giving it remarkable heft. And the lyrics, rather than being nostalgic, tell a story about a distant marriage. What seems at first merely pretty is substantially more interesting....full text
SlantmagazineViolence is a hook on 101, Keren Ann's first new album in four years, which attempts to recast the singer as a fiercer, more forceful presence. This works well on opener "My Name Is Trouble," which is teasingly assertive while still hewing to her usual subtlety, but rings false elsewhere, namely on cabaret-style tracks like "Blood on my Hands," which clumsily details the usually sweet singer murdering her audience.
This swerve into gangster imagery is jarring, mainly because it's so inexplicably strained. It also signals subtle changes that work toward diminishing Keren Ann's appeal, verging on an obviousness that robs the music of its usual refinement. Even the opener contains intimations of this shift. Its minimalist, quiet dance beat is still an understated touch, but it feels like a submission to commonplace pop strictures for a singer whose best material has always been ethereal and expansive.
It's partially because Keren Ann has made such a resource of restraint that the cooing, gritty femme-fatale act pursued here seems contrary to her strengths. On recent work like her gorgeous self-titled album, the songs congealed into a seamless, natural product, both complex and effortless at the same time. The seams of this attempt at reinvention, however, are all too obvious, studded with put-upon sexuality and gangster-moll signifiers. The quiet songs, which occupy her usual métier, by contrast seem limited and at times stifled.
It's a testament to Keren Ann's innate skill that most of this material still works despite its clunkiness. Even "Blood on my Hands," while undeniably cartoonish, is sneakily catchy and smart. "Run with You," with its multi-tracked vocal crawl and hovering electronics, is ghostly and evocative despite its smallness. Yet all the problems present on 101 seem to collect on the closing title track, a tedious countdown that tosses off informational detritus ("78 revolutions per minute/77 developing nations/76 trombones") beneath a lurching string progression, ending with the breathy mention of "one god." It's a strained capper for an album that's strangely and unnecessarily high-concept....full text
FemalefirstKeren Ann is relatively unheard of in the United Kingdom; she’s a musical artist that one of your friends probably keeps secret, in the fear that you may take her away from them. Listening to her sixth studio album 101, leaves you asking the question: why haven’t I already heard Keren Ann, and why has it taken six albums before I heard her at all!?
With a Dutch and Israeli background, Keren Ann Zeidel now lives and records in New York. The truth is, if you have ever seen any of the big American dramas on TV, such as Grey’s Anatomy or Six Feet Under, then you have probably heard her already, as she has had her music regularly featured on these shows. The mood of these American dramas gives you a good idea of the matching mood that Keren puts out in her music, thoughtful and solemn.
All ten tracks are written, arranged and produced by Keren herself, making 101 a fantastic introduction to her impressive talent and musical ability. The songs on the album are diverse; they push you through the track listing and keep you guessing as to what’s coming next.
All the Beautiful Girls takes a more laid back approach, relying wonderfully on the acoustic guitar to carry the song over a backing of beautifully balanced orchestral string sections. Sugar Mama is much more of a pop hit with a twist, but the song never steers too far away from the atmosphere that is consistent throughout 101. The piano led, Blood on My Hands, describes an imaginary massacre of the audience: ‘there was blood on my make-up, there was blood on the piano’, she sings calmly; an example of Keren’s imaginative lyrical choices....full text
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