If you’ve seen those new Mac Air commercials you’ve heard the airy tune accompanying the ultra-thin laptops as they take their marketing now for the world. The song, “New Soul” is sung by the 29-year-old Yael Naïm. Born in Paris (to Tunisian parents) and raised in Israel, Naïm brings her multilingual background to her music. Her second album, Tot ou Tard (Sooner or Later) was released in France to great acclaim in 2007. The album hit number 11 and broke the top forty in Switzerland.
On the heels of that success, Atlantic Records have released the album as Yael Naïm. The album contains an interesting mix of French, English and Hebrew songs. Prior to listening to Yael’s self titled album, my only exposure to her had been the 30 seconds or so of “New Soul” on the Mac ads, so I had no idea what to expect. The first few lines of the album’s opening track are in French before switching over to Hebrew. It becomes immediately obvious that she has a very soft voice and a singing style with an almost effortless quality to it.
The following track, “Too Long” finds Yael singing in English. The rhythmic mix has the feel of a film score. The guitar rhythms made me think of the great Ravi Shankar on sitar. Those influences are likely brought to the record by Naïm’s collaborator, West Indian percussionist David Donatien.
Next is the omnipresent “New Soul.” A huge hit on Itunes, the song has massive pop appeal from the first note. “Soul” recalls everyone from Corrine Bailey Rae to Fiona Apple. The song has a great mix of soft horns and an infectious sing along quality. Add in the angelic-sounding choir at the end of the track, and you have 3:45 of an undeniably perfect pop song.
The next song “Levater (Give Up)” has a melodic rhythm that is a definite ear catcher. The simple haunting quality of this song could make it a hit, but the wider public will have to be willing to accept a song done entirely in Hebrew. It’s a beautiful song whether you understand the lyrics or not.
“Shelcha (Young)” is on of the weaker songs on the album. Backed by a large string section, Yael sings in almost a whisper and the song gets lost in the strings. Naïm quickly regains her footing with “Lonely,” a ballad of sadness that attempts to offer comfort. “Lonely” should be a huge hit. Everyone who has ever been through a breakup can relate to this one.
“Far Far” is a song about a little girl praying for something to happen to her. Lyrics like “How can you stay outside/There’s a beautiful mess inside/take a deep breathe and die” may be a bit heavy, but Naïm’s wispy voice pulls it off.
“Yashanti (I Was Sleeping)” is another soft ballad. While it’s beautifully done in Hebrew, the song has no remarkable characteristics. “7 Baboker (7 in the Morning.)” and “Lachlom (Dream)” are both much the same.
Just when I thought the album had settled into a groove of beautifully done coffee house ballads, I was blown away by Yael Naïm’s remake of the Britney Spears hit, “Toxic.” While Spears version was laden with drum kits and a sexually charged delivery, Naim strips the song down considerably. With minimal instrumentation, Naïm allows her delivery to convey the sultry meaning of the song.
“Pachad (Fear)” begins with a brief piano solo and turns into one of the more beautifully mellow tracks on here. It has one of the strongest melodies. The piano and other instruments blend beautifully with her voice.
The albums final track, “The Endless Song of Happiness (Shir Haosher Hanitschi)” is yet another beautifully flowing ballad in Hebrew.
Though some of the tracks on Yael Naïm’s self-titled album will face some unique issues because of her use of Hebrew, don’t let that scare you away. Naïm is truly a unique talent with a wonderful voice and interesting things to say.
You can check out the video for Yael Naïm’s version of “Toxic” below: