Yael Naïm / David Donatien

Yael Naim & David Donatien

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Yael Naim & David Donatien Review

by Jon O'Brien

Like Feist, the Asteroids Galaxy Tour, and Tommy Sparks, most people's first exposure to French-Israeli singer/songwriter Yael Naim came through the use of her music on a world-wide Apple TV ad. Anyone enchanted by the jaunty piano hooks, brass sections and feel-good la-la-la melodies of "New Soul," personally chosen by Steve Jobs to soundtrack the Macbook Air campaign, may be slightly surprised that there's nothing else like it on her self-titled second album. Instead, the rather belated follow-up to 2001's In a Man's Womb is a much more stripped-back and melancholic affair, sung in French, English, and predominantly Hebrew, which allows Naim's gloriously delicate vocals to swoop and glide over an array of gentle jazz, soul, and folk numbers, from the Corinne Bailey Rae-esque "Too Long" to the chanson-style ode to her favorite city, "Paris," to the tranquil lullaby "Lonely." While its understated sound starts out quite charmingly, David Donatien's sparse minimal production, which shows little evidence of his percussionist background, begins to wear slightly thin halfway through, and it's only when Naim shakes up the formula toward the end that the album begins to prick up the ears. "Toxic" is an unusual but magical interpretation of Britney Spears' 2004 chart-topper, which turns the original raunchy pop anthem into a Björk-esque slice of ethereal ambience, thanks to its twinkling glockenspiels, trippy beats, and psychedelic guitars; the gorgeous "Pachad" harks back to her classical background with its subtle piano solo and mournful orchestration, while closer "Endless Song of Happiness" is a bizarrely captivating, if slightly disjointed waltz which combines end-of-the-pier organs with Gallic acoustics and new age-inspired harmonies. If Naim could have explored these slightly avant-garde tendencies further, her sophomore outing could have been a much more interesting proposition than the pleasantly soothing but ultimately samey record it is.

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