Keren Ann Nolita

[EMI; 2004]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: french folk pop, singer/songwriter
Others: Portishead, The Concretes, Songs: Ohia

Start with the brushed snare and minor-key dankness of the sultry "Que N'ai-Je?," follow with the delicate, introspective "L'Onde Amère," and when the harmonica, fiddle, and banjo come rolling into the piano dirge "Chelsea Burns," you abandon all the assumptions you've been making about the remainder of Nolita, enough almost not to be surprised by the jaunty, slide-guitar-driven shuffle of "Midi dans le salon de la duchesse" or the trip-hop strut of "La Forme et le Fond." Clearly, the album thrives on the broad range of its material, the only enduring elements being a tender, grand quietude and Keren Ann's voice, the silk ribbon that ties everything else together.

"Beautiful" borders on the superlative and suggests a kind of sublimity, while "pretty" is almost demeaning; Nolita occupies a space somewhere between the two, with truly stirring moments like "Nolita," "Chelsea Burns," and "La Forme et le Fond," as well as forgettable though "pretty" pieces such as "Roses and Hips" and "For You and I." "Subtlety" is also a dangerous and often abused word, but when something as significant and rewarding as the frequent treasures of Nolita is obscured by a more conspicuous, unremarkable exterior, that is the time to invoke the word with the whole of its positive connotation. Nolita's humility is inadvertent, almost naïve, leaving the album uncorrupted by the confidence it doesn't know it deserves. You may not find yourself listening to it very often, but when you do, you'll wonder why you haven't come around yet.

1. Que N'ai-Je?
2. L'Onde Amère
3. Chelsea Burns
4. Midi dans le salon de la duchesse
5. Nolita
6. Roses and Hips
7. One Day Without
8. La Forme et le Fond
9. For You and I
10. Song of Alice

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