Review: NEeMA, “Watching You Think”


NEeMA
Watching You Think

(Sony International)
U.S. release: March 1, 2011

I close my eyes and I see hers. Curious, sparkling, deep, windows to a voice but a breath away. It caresses syllables like fingers in tangles of a lover’s hair. Even when absent it wafts through rooms, the ghost of an intimate whisper.

The eyes and voice and presence on NEeMA’s Watching You Think are gone, long gone, the bittersweet welt of One Last Kiss. No hard feelings, no cross words — it’s just that time. “I’m standing at the crossroads and I still don’t know / which direction or path to walk, which way to go,” she admits in “Unwinding,” the “un-” companion to “Unspoken,” an exchange of glances and furtive yearnings. Yet she knows that this is Right. Her heart and mind are free to travel, twirling in gusts as light as memory on a tempo of enchanting grace.

There’s a certainty to her dissolutions, an acceptance of come-what-may. She crafts on “Eternity” the usual pop song true love, then sends it crashing to earth so effectively that a listener accustomed to never-part forevermore is bound to be shocked and heartbroken. It’s a testament to NEeMA’s strength as a writer that she can fuel a familiar idyll with such fetching detail (“Then one day I saw you standing there / on the road to the town fair / When you looked at me, I just froze / I thought, ‘I’ll follow him wherever he goes'”; “I still remember what we said while touching Juliet’s golden breast”) and dismantle it just as naturally.

There are few storybook endings here. People change, ardor fades. Even Shakespeare’s template star-crossed lovers aren’t immune, separated by a chilling gulf. NEeMA unravels Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” to its narrative muscle, replacing the original’s gurgling guitar and witsful drum with an acoustic brook and low whistling organ. The effect is a dreamy and longing but futile pine.

Overall, Watching You Think is similarly light, its minimal instrumentation like dots of summer rain against a cabin window. There are nice added touches throughout, however. Pedal-steel sighs float through “Eternity”; violins skid across the slightly abrasive “Jealousy,” where even guitar strings snap loosely, violently against the wood; and Tijuana brass chortles agreeably in “Escape.”

The instrumentation’s gentle poetry allows NEeMA’s own poetry to speak for itself. She contemplates mortality in “Bone to Pick with Time”; “We’ve a very little window,” she observes, “to do what we must do: write a song, bear a child, fall in love with you.” “Elsa’s Lullaby” explores a companionship based on simple, pure devotion. “I love the way you wait for me / ever so patiently,” NEeMA coos to a pair of adoring dog eyes, “how you lie near my guitar / oblivious to how gorgeous you are.” (It’s a happy ending.)

Watching You Think was produced with Pierre Marchand and mentor/friend Leonard Cohen, an old hand at seducing words to parchment. His endorsement is impressive, but NEeMA’s is a singular voice within a radiant countenance. Cohen captured this essence in a network of ink and paints, which he then struck to the album’s sleeve. Voila. That her image appears unfinished seems appropriate somehow: this is an artist as a work-in-progress, a palette that, two albums in, we’ve only just begun to explore.

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