Nadine Khouri - A Song to the City

Mike Hughes 14/07/2010

Rating: 4/5

Speaking at the launch gig for her new EP A Song To The City, Nadine Khouri confirmed my own impressions, that this is a record of displacement, of being an outsider. It may be a song to cities, but the cities referred to are ones observed from a slight remove and lived in as a stranger. Her songs tell tales of daybreak parks within sight of Brooklyn, of broken things and of cigarette stubs.

It's a lovely record and one I've been listening to for a couple of weeks. She sounds like she's telling of some dangerous and transient life. It is sung confidentially into your ear, the intrigue added to by moments of slightly out of sync double tracking, like an identical twin that turns out to be a mere sister. It's the immediacy of that vocal that sets this apart. It would be too far to call it breathy or murmured but it sure feels intimate. That feeling goes with the stories, the private and intimate observations shared.

Both the writing and recording were done on the move, written wherever she was staying, recorded in friends' halls and sometimes bathrooms. Nadine explained how she had shared files back and to across the Atlantic. I don't think the internet has necessarily made the process easier, just expanded the possibilities. As she described it, the process became so "open" that she had to resist the temptation to add yet more and more to what is already packed and dense instrumentation, so much so that Nadine was concerned that this disjointed approach might have
had some effect on the final output. She needn't worry, it manages to retain a great sense of cohesion, albeit with a mood that progresses from quiet openings and paraffin tainted folk right of 'The Arms Of Love' and the title track. Neither of these are particularly stripped, there is a fill and backwash of scratches and ticks and effects.

'Rouge' is remarkable for it's lyrics. "Here the boys smell of death and desire, the girls of sex and carelessness". It sure ain't Surrey. The standout is 'Blue of Princes'. This starts with a banjo sounding like it is played in a souk, half spoken until there is a moment worthy of Mazzy Star in their heyday when you realise the acoustic lilt you had been chilling to has slowly dropped off a cliff into something loud and entirely later.

The carefully finger picked 'Invisible' is a suitable coda.

Slow burner warning - it took me more than one listen, always a danger in this attention deficit world of downloaded music. It now sits somewhere at the top of my play-list.