Dinner With Leslie

Feist gets second-date deep with The Reminder

You may never get a second chance to make a first impression, but really it's the second impression that counts. Like with dating: The initial meeting is often just testing the boundaries and remembering which fork to use. It's not until the following dinner that you really start getting to know that person across the table.

The Reminder is our second dalliance with singer/songwriter Leslie Feist, who goes by only her last name professionally. Her soulful, jazzy 2005 album, Let it Die, was the soundtrack to our first encounter. There's no question she was charming then, captivating both the sideways-haircut hipster and the Starbucks-sipping soccer mom to the tune of some 400,000 copies sold. As the late-night TV appearances mounted and the magazine profiles rolled in, attempts to shake-dry Feist's foggy Polaroid only gave rise to more questions: Just who is this chick? If she's supposed to be another Corrine Bailey Rae, what's she doing manipulating a sock puppet with Peaches and going by the name Bitch Lap Lap? And if she's a cred-riddled indie rocker who sings with Broken Social Scene, what's up with covering the Bee Gees and writing songs you'd put on a mix tape for your grandparents?

Intimate and revealing, The Reminder sheds more light on the question of Feist's character, indicating that the answer is D): all of the above. While her last record was a half-and-half mix of originals and covers, this time Feist doesn't hide behind anyone else's words, having written or co-written every song on the album but one ("Sea Lion Woman," a bouncy rendition of the traditional chant made famous by Nina Simone).

Feist after one Brandy Alexander too many.
Mary Rozzi
Feist after one Brandy Alexander too many.

Lyrically, the album exposes a performer so authentic and vulnerable, it's impossible not to relate. With lines like "He's my Brandy Alexander / Always gets me into trouble" and "It's not him who'd come across the sea to surprise you / Not him who would know where in London to find you," she shows us a girl who's thrilled to get drunk on love; who's fallen for the wrong guy and been heartbroken by the realization that he's never going to become the man she'd hoped. She questions her instincts, wonders what would've happened if ... , and yearns to understand the machinations of her crushes.

In both romance and music, Feist is a gutsy experimenter. She's not afraid to twang a banjo on one track and go gospel on another, introduce a bossa nova beat here, and throw in Memphis-soul horns over there. She brazenly mashes Spoon-like pianos with a '70s vocal-jazz chorus, only to spin on her heel and belt out a number that wouldn't be out of place in a swank hotel lounge. Still other songs are genreless, with hardly any instrumentation besides the occasional muted piano chord or strum of a guitar.

What unites the songs on The Reminder, aside from lyrical candor, is Feist's subtly affecting voice. It's an imperfect one — damaged from teen years spent fronting a screamy punk band — but beautiful nonetheless, and unapologetically hers. Her delivery is understated, modest, and free of American Idol-style vocal gymnastics — a characteristic she calls "jhai," which allows the music and lyrics, not the larynx, to do the emoting. And since the album was largely recorded live, even the production sounds honest, replacing Pro Tools-ian slickness with ambient sounds — chirping birds, clopping footsteps — that were recorded by Feist herself.

From chasing sparrows with microphones to articulating a diary's worth of confessions to appearing nude (in silhouette) on the album art, Feist shows a tremendous amount of herself on this record. The lyrics to "My Moon, My Man" suggest a twinge of regret over all this openness. Sounding like a girl who's sipped one glass of wine too many, she admits, almost apologetically: "Heart on my sleeve / not where it should be." But The Reminder is a damn good second rendezvous, and Feist's heart is exactly where it belongs.

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