Tuesday, December 11, 2007

best most grossly overhyped album of the year / most often found use for the word "chanteuse"

way back in april, i, along with most of the indie world, waited for the reminder with bated breath, sure that whatever leslie feist had cooked up since let it die was sure to astonish, amaze, and generally kick ass. in fact, one of mr. mammoth's earliest posts was about "my moon my man," the reminder's first single, and how excited i was for the album's release proper. i had only recently fallen in love with let it die, and was sure that her new album would equal its richness and complexity; i was prepared to be blown away. "my moon my man" had shocked me a little - feist sounded so clean and hip, the rustic warmth of "one evening" traded for postmodern self-awareness - and though i eventually warmed to its whirling chaos and stable beat, i secretly hoped that we'd get feist the lounge singer (à la "inside and out") as well as feist the chic.

it turns out we didn't really get either. with only a few exceptions, the reminder is overwhelmingly monochromatic, its songs colored by the gray brush of regret instead of the rainbow i had expected. what happened to feist? her old cheek peers through the cracks in the reminder, but it should really be the other way around. only five songs on the record feel upbeat, but they are neither seductive nor smoky enough to earn her the oft-used "chanteuse" label. the other eight songs are lethargic with minimal orchestration, yet one instrument in particular carries the others instead of working in tandem with them: feist's voice. it is the crux of her songs, and rightly so - it is one of the richest in contemporary music. yet even its lingering texture and timbre aren't quite enough of a justification for songs like "the park," wearyingly repetitive, or "how my heart behaves," another song that doesn't end soon enough. adding insult to injury is the fact that feist's voice suddenly doesn't seem versatile enough to carry nearly a full album of vocal-focal songs (it sounds funny when you say it out loud, alright?). she uses the same voice catches, the same open-throat singing style on every song - after a while, especially without decent instrumentation, it gets boring, the reminder's greatest downfall.

the reminder has been met by unceasing critical praise since its release, a year that has culminated with a slavish article by rolling stone and an appearance on many year-end lists, success based on a small core of great songs that has propelled the mediocre album (by a great artist) to popularity. though "my moon my man" was the reminder's first single, it was a different song that has raised feist's profile (and album sales) - the inimitably catchy "1 2 3 4." "1 2 3 4" garnered well-deserved praise for its patrick daughters-directed video even before it was adopted by apple for its ipod nano commerials, though its use by the sleek computing giant was responsible for its massive success. (on a side note, it's interesting to think about how uncontroversial that instance of song-licensing was, in a year marked by other, more troubling examples.) "1 2 3 4" and "my moon my man" (its video is also directed by daughters) are the reminder's best songs, and while there are a handful more good ones, i still cannot understand why the album (not just the songs, mind you) has been so well-received, when there are only five above decent cuts on there.

the reminder is a sad album, sad from the post-relationship, self-excoriating "so sorry" at the top of the album, sad to the post-relationship, self-excoriating "how my heart behaves" at the end of it. thankfully, feist makes some detours from melancholy, with exceptional results. "my moon my man" and "1 2 3 4" are only two examples; others include the countrified "past in present," the africanized "sealion woman," and the major chord-heavy "i feel it all," all upbeat, cheerful, and the best feist has to offer. unfortunately, those five are woefully incomparable to anything from let it die, and the rest of the album really doesn't cut it. on "the water" and "honey honey," feist's voice is at its best, though the pallid instrumentation isn't really enough to catch the ear. yet, incomprehensibly, it has been feist's coming out album , with over three quarters of a million sales worldwide, and has received near-universal love from music critics and fans. i just don't understand.


Michael said...

I'm not sure why you were expecting a "rainbow" of color from The Reminder. Let It Die was hardly a sunny romp. I actually think that album was much more somber and "sad" then her latest disc.

I agree much of the album is a little slow paced, but that's what I expected after hearing Let It Die. I must have got a different vibe from the first album than you, but labeling her latest effort grossly overhyped? That's a bit of a stretch.

bentrup said...

i'm surprised you think that, especially when songs like "inside and out" and "mushaboom" (especially) are musically upbeat, if lyrically sad. the grossness of the hyping has more to do with how a lot of established indie websites/magazines/critical thinkers didn't even question the reminder's quality, but accepted it at face value, and hyped the shit out of it. their excitement propelled my own, and when i found the reminder wanting, it left me cold. we churn through music so quickly on the internet that anything that sticks around as long as feist should be better than the reminder is.

Michael said...

Mushaboom was a bit of an anomaly on the first CD. It was poppy and upbeat and quite fantastic, but it was definitely an exception and not the rule.

I take your point, though. It did take me a while to warm up to some of the songs on The Reminder. To me, though, there is so much beauty in that sadness and minimal feel she evokes. I guess I just prefer sad Feist to your lounge singing chanteuse Feist.