I had rather unceremoniously dismissed this chanteuse. I really liked the Broken Social Scene record in which she had a cast position for a while, and then immediately didn't care a thing about it anymore, and had callously assumed that all that inhabited that broken scene would see a similar fate. It's not fair at all, but sometimes that's how it goes. There are so many hours in the day. Then the video for "1234" off her latest The Reminder entered my consciousness and all that changed. Much in the same way I think all American culture should be sent first to Japan for processing then re-imported, all videos (at least all non-rap videos) should for the time being be sent through Team Feist.
The one for "1234" (YouTube) couldn't have less of a premise supporting a charming slip of a song. I kinda liked the whoa-oh-ohs in the song and the camp fingersnaps, but none of it really grabbed me until the dance explosion of her video. I don't even know why this hits me so squarely, since I hate this kind of Broadway shit but I must concede. I wanted part of the rainbow that surrounds her, momentarily the most beautiful woman in the world in that atrocious blue sequined jumpsuit.
A song I like even less, the softer than Soft Cell electro-Liza "My Moon My Man" (YouTube) has an even flimsier concept: The Motels meet OK Go in an airport. I feel like I just pitched a movie to the USA Network just by typing that, but again I have to acquiesce to its video's efficacy. I love the dramatic lighting, the slip of a dancing couple darting by, her outfit, everything. It's camp done smart, pushing things to the stretching point without denting the weave.
So after all this, I go back to an album I had no interest in with renewed curiosity. Was this Feist the broken angel for whom I was longing.? Bjork is too meta anymore to mean anything, Cat Power has dicked me over too many times, wasting all that limelight. Juana Molina, my Argentinian dark horse never really delivered after Segundo. And despite her evidently universal appeal, I don't really care all that much for Neko Case. Does Feist and The Reminder have what it takes to go to the next level?
Without the visuals, not really. iTunes says "folk" but my ears say "post-showtunes" about this record of sparse faux-jazz settings for Feist's reliable but undramatic vocal range. The opening songs "I'm Sorry" and "I Feel it All" are both great, if not exactly the most consequential songs you'll hear. That's OK, breezes can be just a stirring as gale force wind in the right setting. I think this record would sound world's better at a party, or in a car commercial. "The Park" is a rather lovely and delicate folky whisp of a thing, sounding a bit out of place from the tonier material surrounding it. There are moments of great atmosphere like "The Water" and some smart-beats material like the icy soul of "Sea Lion Woman," mixing a little Nina Hagen with the original Nina Simone."Honey Honey" is an obvious stylistic nod to the aforementioned Icelander with a better line-up of supporting material to voice. I bet Feist puts on a great live show.
But for those slight triumphs, there are as many slight missteps, like where she trips running up that Lauryn Hill on "Brandy Alexander" and engages in awkward R&B schmaltz of "How My Heart Behaves." It suffers from what seems to be a congenital problem among Canadian musicians - these folks have chops, charm, songwriting, everything to make a delicious poutine of pop music bliss, but the ingredients never quite go together the way they should. I don't know what it is. Is it all that socialized medicine and crimeless streets tempering their edge? Their general friendliness that releases the artist from the struggle for connection? The presence of a government that has some actual invested intrest in its artists? Some key ingredient is missing from the mortar that hold the bricks together.
But those videos totally do it for me. She could save pop music from itself with them. My suggestion, should she be looking for it, is start with a bank of video ideas, and reverse-engineer the songs from them. It's OK to do that now; it's called playing to one's strengths.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com