Feature: Keren Ann
Thu, 12 Jul 2007 16:23:45
Keren Ann Videos
It's a Sunday night in LA, and singer-songwriter Keren Ann is on the last show of her US tour for her delicately powerful new pop-rock record. She's brought a glass of cognac out on stage with her, and has been touting its merits along with those of her not particularly stylish Brooks running sneakers. While this sophisticated-yet-practical combination may seem incongruous, it's Keren Ann all over.
Raised as a small child in Israel and Holland, she spent her teen and early adult years in Paris. Though she's now "settled" in New York, Keren Ann is always on the go. Pieces of her new, self-titled album were assembled in transit, at stops ranging from Iceland to France to Israel to New York and LA. As she says, "I carry home with me." And both the pragmatism and improvisation demanded by this lifestyle seem to inform her approach to music.
"It does play a very big role—the fact that I don't plan," she says of her intentionally freeform approach to making the new record. "But I knew the general atmosphere and the ambience that I wanted to have, and that I wanted something more twisted, more rock." This desire for a rougher sound shows up on Keren Ann in tracks like the lilting-yet-menacing "In Your Back" and the tarnished blues-rock of "It Ain't No Crime," which mark ragged new territory for the singer-songwriter known first as a French chanteuse.
But her penchant for mellifluous pop songs hasn't gone anywhere—as always, it's just a jumping off point. On Keren Ann, the upbeat, handclap-fueled loveliness of cuts like "Lay Your Head Down" sits perfectly alongside the slowly strummed blues of "The Harder Ships of the World" and the gorgeous choral arrangements, tinkling piano, and wide-open spaces of "Liberty."
Though she flew largely under US radars until her excellent previous release, Nolita, Keren Ann has been perfecting her craft for some time. Frequently compared to the great Françoise Hardy early in her career, Keren Ann manages to evolve with each album while continuing to maintain a cool confidence and quality of songwriting that runs like a plumbline through her investigations into pop, blues, jazz, and now rock. In conversation, she sites "Chopin, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, and Philip Glass" as influences in a single breath.
This kind of heady compression seems characteristic of Keren Ann, who thrives on a fluidity that knows few bounds. Style and instrumentation, even time and place, are just modalities and tools that can be used at will in the service of "taking an emotion and giving it a shape." As she says with a cryptic carefree-ness that's sneakily compelling, "The smaller the world gets, the shorter the time is between generations—the '60s were yesterday (even if I wasn't there), just like Paris is next door."
Prior to the show, while waiting at a traffic signal, we gazed out over the Beverly Hills sign into a midnight blue sky with a sliver of moon hanging over the trees. With charming equanimity, Keren Ann said, "Everything in LA is a cliché—but it's perfect." Not surprisingly, she's since moved on again, embarking on her European tour. When I asked her if there was anywhere past or present that she would call home, she said there wasn't, adding, "I always leave when I know that I would want to come back."
—Jocelyn K. Glei
Click here to watch the video for the single "Lay Your Head Down," and purchase Keren Ann's self-titled album.