Singer/Songwriter NEeMA has crafted something deeply personal and precious with her sophomore LP, Watching You Think. Its wonderful unity of lightly orchestrated folk, intelligent poetry, warm production, and endearing, almost vulnerable vocals make it an instant classic in the genre. NEeMA entrances you with her affective tales of life.
Born of Egyptian and Lebanese descent, NEeMA has been an active humanitarian for several years; she’s spent time with the Dali Lama and Mother Teresa, as well as working with children in Egypt and tribal elders in Wekweti. Naturally, her selfless spirit and experiences have inspired her music; produced in association with Leonard Cohen and Pierre Marchard, Watching You Think reveals NEeMA as a kindred spirit to 1960s greats like Joni Mitchel, Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon.
“Unspoken” opens the album with a playful tale of love. NEeMA’s subtle ascent and smooth timbre makes her voice simultaneously seductive and sweet, and her lyrics are such that you hang on every word, reading along, drawn by the story. Complementing her voice and acoustic guitar are clapping hands, strings, and bass, and it’s with this focus on perfectly suited production for each track that Watching You Think truly succeeds.
Much like Gary Jules brilliantly exposed the underlying heartache of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World,” NEeMA brings out all the beauty and poeticism of Dire Straights’ “Romeo & Juliet.” Almost inarguably superior to the original, it’s one of the best cover versions I’ve ever heard. And with simple yet poignant lyrics, an affective melody, and soothing chord changes, “Unwinding” pinpoints the pain of breaking up.
“Running” plays with poetic conventions like rhyming and repetition, and coupled with its engrossing arpeggio and swooning cello, it completely captivates its listener. “Escape” ups the tempo and force a bit, earning its place as the album’s rocking hit single. Discussing any more of the beautiful puzzle that is Watching You Think would give away its gifts, but trust me, every song on here is a treasure.
NEeMA announces herself as a powerful and important singer/songwriter with Watching You Think; baring similarity to the much more eclectic, strange, and adolescent sounding Joanna Newsom. She does justice to the musician poets that came decades ago, and while she isn’t quite on the level of geniuses like Paul Simon and Bob Dylan (and Leonard Cohen, of course), she’s definitely on her way. In those introspective moments that come while driving on a sunny, warm day, there is no better soundtrack than Watching You Think.