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Feist - The Reminder Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 August 2007
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    8
sound:    8
released:    2007
label:    Interscope
reviewer:    Matt Fink

ImageFor as much as Leslie Feist’s 2004 breakthrough Let It Die seemed like the arrival of a truly original and distinctive artist, a closer examination of that album aroused suspicions that she might have been the kind of artist for whom the creative stars had just happened to align perfectly. For one, there was the second half of the album, which despite having some of the album’s strongest material featured almost entirely covers. Then there was the fact that the album was so much of a shared vision with friend and collaborator Gonzales that is was hard to know where one ended and the other began, with him having co-writing credits on four the tracks. And while the album was a perfectly executed mélange of bossa nova, jazz, French pop and indie rock, it was difficult to know just who the artist was beneath the stylistic shifts. She had our attention now, but would she have anything to say when she took the reigns definitively for herself?

With The Reminder, the answer comes back an unmistakable “yes,” as she has created an album that betters its predecessor in nearly every respect. Emboldened by two years on the road where she played the songs from Let It Die to a packed house every night, the Canadian singer-songwriter leaves little doubt that she is calling the shots, taking partial or complete writing credit on every track and assuming center stage as a singularly magnetic personality. The result is a series of songs that range from dance hall pop to humble acoustic ballads and jazz-inflected soft rock, with Feist emerging as a clever writer and surprisingly deft tunesmith. It’s the sound of an artist coming into her own.
Having assembled an eclectic team of players for her backing band, from mainstays Gonzales and Mocky to British soul singer Jamie Liddell and Broken Social Scene band mates Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, she pushes all the right buttons and injects the arrangements with an energetic and off-the-cuff feel. As a result, The Reminder is the rare album that evokes a specific place and time, with the French manor house that served as a recording studio capturing a rich tapestry of chirping birds and feet clopping on concrete. More than anything in her four-album catalog, these are songs that feel lived in and worn, with an impromptu energy and an open and uncluttered sound pulsing through the clapped out rhythms and group harmonies of “Sea Lion Woman” and the finger snaps of the charmingly wistful “Brandy Alexander.” But despite the homemade feel, the attention to detail is stunning, from the carefully layered chorus of “Honey Honey” to the gorgeously lush backdrop of swirling strings and flutes on “The Limit to Your Love.”

Despite her indie and punk roots, Feist the songwriter is cut from the cloth of Joni Mitchell and Tin Pan Alley, writing songs with rich phrasing, sing-along choruses, and stately melodies where she can cast herself as a longingly playful and resignedly heartbroken protagonist. “Oh, you’re changing your heart/oh, you know who you are,” she warns reassuringly over a charmingly jaunty blend of banjo, swooning strings and celebratory trumpet on “One Two Three Four,” the album’s warmly-swaying centerpiece. On the other end of the emotional spectrum is the hymn-like intimacy of “The Park,” a humble ballad with gently lilting acoustic guitars and trumpets humming in the distance. “Why should he come back through the park,” she questions herself, her voice heavy with less. “You thought you saw him, but you did now?” she finishes, with uneasy obsession.

For sure, there are still moments that recall the early morning charm of Let It Die -- from the plaintively lilting Brazilian pop undertones of “I’m Sorry” to the soft marimba and smoky jazz club piano of “The Water” -- but The Reminder is an album with an altogether different character. With deeper sadness in the self-searching songs, greater whimsy in the light-hearted ones, and more energy in the upbeat tracks, it’s an album that has no lulls or misfires, one that captures an artist expressing the full range of her personality. If there were any lingering doubts that she was capable of charting her own creative course, she has completely erased them.

Despite the general emphasis on fuzzy mixes with little separation of the instruments and vocals high in the mix, The Reminder is rich in tone and textural color. As if peeled off a piece of vintage ‘70s vinyl, the dry mixes suit the arrangements perfectly, presenting the instruments in one thick wall of reverb but still giving the impression of depth and space. To be certain, many of the finer points will be lost even with the use of high-end equipment, but this album is designed specifically to evoke a place and a mood, with resulting mixes so open and airy that you can almost visualize the circle of musicians playing off each other on creaky floorboards under high ceilings.

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