Yael Naim - Older (Bang)

Yael Naim – Older (Bang)

untitled (227)For over 10 years, talented Israeli-French songwriter Yael Naim has dazzled with intelligent lyrics that strike a chord amongst her fans in their quest for escapism while developing a timeline of modesty and discovery. Her forlorn disenchantment is made even more compelling by a breezy, elegant and refreshing voice that – when sung in Israeli or French – is exotic, husky and deep.

Although at the finale of her last album She Was A Boy, Naim declared that the game was over for “mon couer”, her spirit and creativity is still pumping, only this time her antagonist is mortality rather than love or homesickness, and her weapon of choice is rationalism – a desire to live and breathe in the present before the inevitable. The cycle of life as she calls it. Two recent contrasting fortunes affecting her – the death of her grandmother and the birth of her daughter – contributed to her wisened peak, comparable to the owl illustration on Older‘s sleeve. Naim is reflective as usual – that`s an attached idiosyncrasy – but there is a sense of fun, freedom and playfulness in the compositions that live gracefully in the moment.

‘I Walk Into’ and ‘Make A Child’ follow the preparation of motherhood. The former describes the importance of persistence, carefulness and dedication: “I walk on teardrops until you grow,” whilst the latter seems to show a sense of urgency, and a switch in responsibility: “think of what your mother told you/it’s the biggest love and it’s really gonna hit you.”

Dream in My Head is about the fear of change and facing up to reality. It contains perhaps her most blunt expression: “I got to know myself now, I could die/I might lose myself but I no longer need to hide”. This is fascinating when you consider that she has shown a desire to live in a fantastical world on previous albums. This time she is brought back down to Earth with a thud. ‘Take Me Down’ then continues to reverse her persona by relinquishing her self-deprecation and transforming it into confident reassurance.

One of the consistencies of Naim’s charming sound are her choices of instrument; pleading allegiance to the omnichord (seemingly a heavy influence on CallMeKat’s D.I.Y leanings), harmonium, xylophone, piano, acoustic guitar and cello. Marxophone is added to the omnichord beats on ‘Trapped’, but the direction of Naim’s voice oddly makes it sound like ABBA at their most passionate. ‘Older’ itself appropriately returns to a stripped down acoustic guitar, to fit with the song’s heartfelt lyrics about her grandmother’s passing and how Naim felt about it. “It doesn’t feel right/Ending so fast/Now that it’s over I’m still beside you before you’re leaving.”

Meme Iren Song’ is equally minimalist and centres on the harmonium in an atmospheric city environment. The innovative ‘Make A Child’ is the most extreme example of her self-confessed extended use of harmony, as it concludes a Facebook campaign in which she asked fans to submit their own versions of the song, resulting in 20 contributions used in the process. On the face of it, it mimics a snowy Christmas charity song with the party atmosphere of Kate Bush‘s ‘Eat The Music’ via a Phil Collins-esque crescendo. Naim’s voice here has also evolved into spontaneous hysterics in the realms of The Dø‘s Olivia Merilahti – a slightly risky strategy considering that this fellow Parisian’s voice is an acquired taste and Naim’s vocals really didn’t need tampering with. Still, it has the advertisement potential of ‘New Soul’ at least.

‘She Said’ is another grower, as its multiple layers of voice can be chaotic and overwhelming upon first listen, leaving an aftertaste of bemusement, whilst the confusing ‘I Walk Until’ suffers from an overuse of vocal holds and too many ‘la la la’ moments substituting meaningful words in the last chapter, somewhat blurring its message.

Naim’s voice is energized, stronger and, with expansive degrees of personality, it breaches away from the usual introspective calmness. This is demonstrated by the soulful ballad ‘Dream In My Head’ (which sounds like Paloma Faith) and the head-bopping harmonies of ‘Take Me Down’ (think Andreya Triana).

Yael Naim has worked with West Indian Multi-instrumentalist Daniel Donatien for so long, it’s effectively a duet project but on their fourth album, the collaborative nature grows still deeper. ‘Walk Walk’ is synonymous with the album’s eclecticism from its spontaneous 50s clapping and doo-wopping (its jingle appeal could justifiably advertise cereal), but it benefits greatly from the inclusion of renowned drummer Zigaboo Modeliste from legendary funk group The Meters.

The only Hebrew track on the album, ‘Ima’ (Mother), sees Naim team up with American classical musician Leyla McCalla (Carolina Chocolate Drops), who not only plays cello and banjo on the song but also adds the language of Creole from her ancestral Haiti background. It will remind listeners of the multi-linguistic Ibeyi and  Yael Naim’s eponymous second album, in which the English tracks were outweighed by Hebrew and French. On her latest work, we only get a taste of foreign dialects, but where samples of her origins are missed, her messages are made clearer.

If the mysterious glockenspiel on ‘Ima’ is reminiscent of Danny Elfman soundtracks, then the chilling album highlight ‘Coward’ will transport you fully into Tim Burton‘s gothic world. Various versions have been produced of this song – to the extent that an EP has been released featuring Dutch orchestra Metropole Orkest and a remix by Danish DJ Rune that is even more haunting with tunnel-like echo noises. The original version, though, is still best for its dark and spacious simplicity, which leaves room for imagination and focuses on the rising arc of her choral singers, impeccably matched with Naim’s intimate classical piano.

Despite the multi-coloured avenues that detour on Older, ‘Coward’ will be the track that grows inside you. It’s one of the most transparent documentation of pregnancy you’ll ever hear. “I truly thought I was prepared/But now I’m panicked and I’m scared/Now you’ve entered my body/Straight to my heart and into my soul.” It’s a shame that the rest of the album doesn’t have the same spine-tingling mood that ‘Coward’ advertises, but nonetheless, Naim’s ability to get her audience to empathise with her in tracks such as this will immortalise her presence for generations to come.


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