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EntertainmentMusic & ArtsApple ad creates recognition for Yael Naim

Apple ad creates recognition for Yael Naim

Monday, March 10th 2008, 7:06 PM

Yael Naim hopes her Hebrew lyrics will cross musical borders.
Yael Naim hopes her Hebrew lyrics will cross musical borders.

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Score another sonic bull's-eye for Apple.

First, the company shot the career of the singer Feist into the stratosphere by featuring her song "1 2 3 4" in an ad campaign.

Now another artist has found an instant audience by getting a smidgen of her music into a Mac spot.

"New Soul," the debut single from Yael Naim, has shot to the top of the download charts and sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the last few weeks, all based on a 30-second snippet of her song in the Apple campaign for its groovy new superthin notebook.

Admittedly, it's an arresting snippet.

"New Soul" sounds very much like its title: something freshly born. Given Naim's sprightly voice, and the airy instrumentation around it, the recording sounds carbonated. It's a fizzy splash of a thing.

It also sounds very much like Feist - something Naim readily concedes. "We didn't have any influence from her, but we have a similar approach to music," she says. "And I love the way she sings."

If anything, Naim has an even lighter touch. She's a true musical gamine, which is logical - she recorded her album in Paris. Though born in the city, Naim grew up in Israel, and half her album is sung in Hebrew. "It's not considered sexy to sing in Hebrew," she admits. "But I think it can really touch people, even if they don't understand it."

It already has in Europe, where the CD has been a hit. (The disk doesn't come out stateside until next Tuesday. Naim will headline her first American show at Bowery Ballroom on March 19).

It's ironic that Naim has had success using a sound created without commercial expectations. In contrast, her more contrived earlier work bombed.

The 30-year-old got her break during a show in Paris in 2000, when producers saw her and signed her to EMI. But she felt the music she did there was compromised. In 2004, things began to turn around when Naim met Parisian percussionist David Donatien. She played her songs for him and he heard something in them: a rare innocence. "He was the first person to trust me," she says.

They spent the next two years honing their sound, cutting the album entirely on their own with no record company interference. Small wonder there's a playfulness to the arrangements, with lots of quirks. It's a clean, spare sound that almost aches with sincerity.

A rare ironic moment finds the pair covering Britney Spears' "Toxic," but their version drains out all the production contrivance. In Naim's hands, "Toxic" becomes another yearning ballad. "It was the most extreme thing I could find in commercial music," says Naim. "It was a funny exercise."

Whether Americans will respond to the joke - and the wide-eyed feel of the whole CD - remains to be seen. Certainly, the choice to sing half the songs in Hebrew presents a considerable challenge. But Naim believes the world is changing on that score. "Today you can be yourself and sing in your own language," she says. "That's a good thing for all of us."

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