Leslie Feist has it; and her latest album is a pleasant
"reminder" of this.
But what is "it"? That's a question I cannot answer
directly. I can, however, offer an illustration of "it".
Listening to The Reminder feels like falling in love and
getting dumped all at once. A star-lit walk hand-in-hand through
the city, and through the city, and a lonely drive down a road
of dead leaves. How can Feist evoke such poetry and paradox? Because
she has it.
The Reminder is, after all, about love and heartbreak.
Yet, it's more complex than the "Top 40" radio-friendly
notions of the two. Because foundational to each track of the
album is a philosophy of relationships that's thoroughly human,
and unabashedly honest. And, equally important, is the tremendous
musicality of Feist's latest work. As a result, she challenges
our understanding of love, loss, and each other, refining them
in the process.
Take, for instance, the opening track "So Sorry." Colored
by brush-drum jazz and images of the everyday, Feist graces the
woes and regrets of heartache with vocals as beautiful as they
are sincere. Thematically she may not be covering new ground,
yet she cultivates this familiar ground with such care and precision
that the forgotten complexities of "breaking up" long
buried under the hardened ground of not-a-few "it's all your
fault" emo cries and The Real World melodrama are
unearthed. Feist does this not by demonizing the heartbreaker
nor through attempts to emotionally recapitulate a happier past.
Quite the contrary. "So Sorry" takes a humbler, more
difficult route as she sings, "We're so helpless/We're slaves
to our impulses/We're afraid of our emotions/And no one knows
where the shore is/We're divided by the ocean."
What thus emerges is not only a mature introspection of her own
faults, but a poignant critique of how poorly us 21st Century
Westerners relate to each other. In a world where online connections
replace soul-to-soul ones and urges are satisfied at the click
of a mouse, Feist's words at least attempt to re-direct our gaze
back to "the shore," the ground upon which we were meant
to fall in and out of love. And in an industry of love songs centered
exclusively on "I" it's refreshing to hear one make
room for "we" instead. The only time Feist uses the
former referent is to sing "I'm sorry".
The opening track is followed by the foot-stomping guitar rocker
"I Feel It All." This song, like its predecessor, has
a heartbroken pulse. As Feist sings, "Oh I'll be the one
who'll break my heart/I'll be the one to hold the gun." Putting
two songs about the same thing may sound redundant, but the song
itself sounds so cool and delightful, with its bluesy strums and
xylophone notes beautiful as magic, that revisiting heartache
Similar mourning is especially lifelike in "The Park."
Musically, Feist takes a minimalist route; only a guitar, the
occasional horn, and her voice are heard. Lyrically, however,
this may be her most detailed song. Rather than toying with overspent
"universal emotions," she locates "The Park"
in a particular place: London. The contrast between the song's
abstract title and its corporeal British setting mirrors a striking
contrast. "The Park," though rich with memories of past
love and hopes for its return, can only be disappointed by the
concrete city from which it tries to hide. With lonely strums
she sings, "It's not him who'd come across the sea to surprise
you/ Not him who would know where in London to find you."
This is one of Feist's best songs yet.
Her vocals soar beyond their limits on the haunting track "The
Water," only to come up against those inflicted by someone
else in "The Limit To Your Love." With melodies more
restrained than usual, she sings, "There's a limit to your
love/Like a waterfall in slow motion/Like a map with no ocean/There's
a limit to your love."
Perhaps the most inventive track is the quirky "Sealion."
Here a small chorus chants "Sealion" as playful handclaps
hurry the song forward. Leading the pack is Feist, who bounces
out lyrics in a stream-of-conscious style and melodies that dance.
She sings, "Sea lion woman dressed in red/Smile at the man
when you wake up in his bed/Sea lion woman dressed in black/Wink
at the man and then stab him in the back."
Add to the aforementioned songs the mellow Joni Mitchell-like
atmosphere of "Brandy Alexander." Spice up the mix with
the folksy grooves of "1234" then finish with the pleasant
final track, "How My Heart Behaves." Then listen to
the whole album again and again. The Reminder is a music
lover's treasure, one of those albums where every single song
is outstanding, even after repeated listening. I can think of
few contemporary artists with as much promise, even talent, as
the woman beautifying the album's cover with her silhouette.
Leslie Feist has it.
1. So Sorry
2. I Feel It All
3. My Moon My Man
4. The Park
5. The Water
7. Past in Present
8. The Limit To Your Love
10. Brandy Alexander
11. Honey Honey
12. How My Heart Behaves
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