Is there a more international artist than Keren Ann Zeidel? Born in Israel to a Dutch-Russian-Javanese family, growing up in Paris and now spending much of her time in New York, it's hard to imagine a more global background for a solo artist. This is her fifth album, following a brace of superb French-only releases and two more recent and more widely available CDs, of which 2005's Nolita started to herald her arrival to a wider audience. While that album flirted a little too often with Radio 2-friendly jazzpop, Keren Ann brings with it a broader sonic palette and the result is a more satisfying listen. Thus these 9 songs switch effortlessly from Mazzy Star-influenced feedback improvisation to swooning pop, to austere Morricone minimalism and, in the case of closing track 'Caspia', something approaching baggy choral instrumental.
The choice of album title is telling; choosing an eponymous name 5 albums into a career hints at either a return to basics or a shifting of the playing field. The feel of this album suggests a little of both to a certain extent; there is a simplicity of structure but each song decorates in a different way. 'It's All A Lie' works wonders as a statement of intent - it's a surprising opener, lo-fi and sprawling with reverb-heavy Drugstore guitars sliding in and out of focus. Further on, 'It Ain't No Crime' showcases a harder edge to the songwriter's canon, punching through with scratchy fuzz.
There remain some constants however; as on previous releases Keren Ann's vocals are a delight - her delivery an intoxicating, intimate whisper, the audio equivalent of a coy smile forming at the curl of her lips. Yet the secrets contained within often hint at darkness - 'In Your Back' tells of "how from a beautiful girl I became someone ruined and wrecked... the one that you loved died a long time ago", while the main refrain in the stark 'Where No Endings End' is singular and bleak - "I give in, I give in". Conversely, the sheer bliss of 'Lay Your Head Down' balances things beautifully; it's a sublime slice of handclapping Velvets-inspired wonderment and the most immediate track. With trickling piano and delicate arpeggios 'Liberty' seems to suggest a similar contentment, yet the lyrics again hint at a soul in turmoil - "I found myself restless one night / sipped poison and wine / dimmed every light and kissed many lips". Nonetheless, the bulging strings and wordless choral suggest a redmption by the end of the song, overcoming the whispered voices which haunt like so many guilty secrets.
Overall there is a lesser degree of playfulness normally found on her recordings this time round, but the effect is to focus the listener on the song-as-confessional rather than as an exercise in songwriting, which has at times been a criticism of her previous work. Likewise the decision to once again self-produce the album signposts an artist determined to keep personal control over her output and push her boundaries.
Ultimately, while Keren Ann doesn't quite reach the heights of her brilliant second album La Disparition and may disappoint those that were expecting an equally jazzy follow-up to Nolita, this record should serve as a useful introduction to a gifted singer-songwriter who deserves more attention in this country and elsewhere.