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Import Zone |column | Lollipop

Import Zone

By Michael McCarthy

You may know Spanish actress Najwa Nimri for her compelling performance as the psychotic Nuria in the film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), the role that was played by Cameron Diaz in Cameron Crowe's re-make, Vanilla Sky. What you should know her for, although few people outside of Spain seem to, is her singing. That's right, like many a European actress, Najwa also has a career as a singer (in the music world, she simply goes by Najwa). Last year she released a fantastic solo album called Carefully on Subterfuge Records (www.subterfuge.com), having previously collaborated with Carlos Jean for the label under the moniker Najwajean. I suppose you could dance to some of her songs on Carefully, but most are more in the trip-hop vein, the hypnotic beats and creepy sounds often calling to mind Massive Attack ("Following Dolphins" starts off remarkably like Massive Attack's "Angel," for example). Other tracks are a bit more upbeat, the sort of quirky pop Björk is renowned for. And perhaps it's because she's also singing in English as a second language (or so I assume) that Najwa's voice often reminds me of Björk's. Her voice is generally softer, but the way she pronounces her eccentric lyrics, which she writes herself, is equally captivating. Likewise, she shares Björk's fondness for live strings, most if not all of these songs featuring violin, viola, and cello. A superbly-produced electronic pop masterpiece (www.najwa.ws).

The Cardigans' vocalist Nina Persson released an untitled solo album under the moniker A Camp in 2001. It has yet to be released Stateside, but the UK release on Stockholm Records (www.stockholmrecords.com) isn't terribly hard to find and is certainly worth hunting down if you're a fan of her distinctive voice. Produced by Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, it's a decidedly tranquil work that meshes modern studio staples (drum programming, samples) with everything from steel guitar and mellotron to the Wurlitzer. The end result is what you'd expect if Persson were to front a reunited Iron Butterfly. It works on the dreamy "Frequent Flyer" and the upbeat "Hard As A Stone," which calls to mind Stone Temple Pilot's "Big Bang Baby," but "The Same Old Song" does seem to live up to its name (www.a-camp.org).

It might be impossible to classify France's Superbus, but their debut album, Aeromusical (Mercury, France), is one of the most infectious discs I've heard in ages. Seriously, you could have some heated arguments over the genre of this group, which seems to range from emo to ska to pop to punk, and it's clearly their wide array of influences that makes them so irresistible. "Je Reste Encore" reminds me of No Doubt's "Spiderwebs" (like Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Ayache, le voix de Superbus, can sound assertive one minute and sweet as sugar the next), "Superstar" reminds me of Blink 182's "All the Small Things" (the melodies of the two are strikingly similar), "Tchi-cum-Bah" reminds me of later day Sublime (just the general vibe), and the title track reminds me of early Nirvana (for the raw, crunchy guitars)... only I generally like Superbus' songs more than those by the artists I'm comparing them to. And taking something that's already out there and re-creating it to make it their own seems to be their gift, as evidenced on their superb, punked-out cover of Madonna's "Into the Groove." Super, indeed (www.superbus.com.fr).

Depressed? Planning to spend the night alone with a bottle of wine? Then Comes the Sun, the third album by Italy's pop sensation Elisa (Sugar Music; www.sugarmusic.com), is the perfect companion. Her deep, soulful lyrics (the entire album is in English) on "Heaven Out of Hell" are hopeful but never so much so that it becomes irritating (she may be a bit more accessible than Tori Amos, but this certainly isn't your generic, Celine Dion-type extravagance either). That said, there are plenty of songs here that might make you feel like crying. "'Cause it never began for us/it'll never end for us" she sings on "Rainbow," and it's uncertain whether she's saying that to encourage her broken heart to heal or keep on bleeding. What is certain is that Elisa's voice is always full of emotion and she infects her listeners with it like a great jazz singer. If you liked Fiona Apple's first album, you should cherish this (www.elisaweb.net).  


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