Child of No Nation

Once in a while, a CD arrives that flips all expectations. From the cover, it seemed as if the debut album from Chinese singer/songwriter Philein would be a simple pop record, an album that would borrow heavily from Western (geographical, not the cowboy genre) Top-40 influences. However, the opening of the CD is a cinematic instrumental with a strong Asian flavor. Definitely not Britney Spears, and thankfully so.

Philein has a cute, little-girl voice that whispers in the dark; she combines innocence and sexuality in a way that many American female singers, who are often more raunchy and erotically aggressive in their tone, cannot. On “For All Eternity,” she almost resembles Dido, minus the English accent. There is a dreamy quality to her vocals and, while her range isn’t that wide, they delight the ears. “For All Eternity” completely veers from the clichés of U.S. commercial radio; its spacey keyboards give Philein’s voice an astral sheen. “Run Into Love” recalls the early ’80s New Wave disco of Tom Tom Club, a group that used to combine ’70s funk with state-of-the-art synthesized disco as well as this.

“Shock Seduce Me” continues the danceable grooves, albeit more on the techno side this time. However, just when you can predict Philein’s next move, she throws a curveball with the title track. Spiced with spare acoustic guitar, “Child of No Nation” explores the loneliness of people who are caught between the cultures and customs of their heritage and those of their adopted countries. It is quite moving, and provides the album with surprising depth.


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