April 26, 2007

A Constant Reminder

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Leslie Feist, a member of the swarming Canadian collective known as Broken Social Scene and well-respected solo artist in her own right, has been slowly working her way from relative obscurity to mainstream appeal and if the critical plaudits raining down on her are any indication, this album may be the one that propels her into the public consciousness. On her third album, The Reminder, Feist has pared her sound down further than ever before, to chilling and intoxicating effect. The most disarming piece of any Feist song is her voice, smokey and quavering with total control and this album makes the most of it.
Happily, this album is not so much a departure from Let It Die as an extension of that album’s sound. One of the best cuts on the latter was “Mushaboom,” which became a cult hit and was subsequently covered by Bright Eyes and remixed by The Postal Service. “1,2,3,4” promises to be the “Mushaboom” equivalent on The Reminder. Its bouncing melody is just as infectious, and its chorus has Feist hitting the high notes with such ease that you’ll be amazed how hard it is to sing when you try (and you will try) after you hear it.
The Reminder begins with “So Sorry,” a jazzy little number that sounds like equal parts Norah Jones and Cat Power (a description that could be applied with equal accuracy to Ms. Feist herself). Between the piano and drums, Feist’s voice is brought to the fore, displaying the vocal control and force that makes her such an outstanding performer.
“My Moon My Man” once again uses her vocals to stirring effect. I have no idea what the songs is about, but Feist singing is haunting and when the bass line, drums and piano come out of the background it kicks ass. Feist even does what sounds like some three-part harmony that could be a song in and of itself.
What The Reminder demonstrates more than Feist’s vocal skill, is her great vocal range. After the upbeat rhythm of “My Moon My Man,” she takes it down a notch with “The Park,” a slow and spiritual folk number, and then veers into Architecture In Helskinki style alt-rock with “Past In Present.” Remarkably, the aural differences in these songs do not detract from the cohesive feel of the album. On “Sea Lion Woman,” Feist produces a unique take on the old traditional song made famous by Nina Simone — giving it a rollicking techno momentum, a head-bobbing beat and a punctuating chorus.
While Feist has got a voice most artists would kill for, she has a propensity to lean toward slow-moving introspective numbers that limit her to one style of vocalizing. What The Reminder demonstrates is that it may be time for her to move on, because she’s already mastered this sound. This album is worth listening to in its perfection of a certain kind of sound, but its limitations may leave some listeners wanting a little bit more.