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The Reminder
Cherrytree/Interscope Records

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 kicks ass.

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.

-Justin Stover

Track Listing:
1. So Sorry
2. I Feel It All
3. My Moon My Man
4. The Park
5. The Water
6. Sealion
7. Past in Present
8. The Limit To Your Love
9. 1234
10. Brandy Alexander
11. Honey Honey
12. How My Heart Behaves

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