Thursday, March 24, 2005

glisten: Feist!

So, who is this FEIST?

Feist is the artist's genuine surname; she discusses the reaction her name gets in Germany on this live outtake:

Feist Explains the German Language

Leslie Feist was born in Calgary, Canada around about 1976 and started rockin' the casbah right around fifteen. While still in high school, Leslie fronted a punk band called Placebo (which, as far as I can find, never put anything on wax) that entered a contest and won the right to open for th' motherfuckin' Ramones. This opened the door to five years of Placebo doing regular performances and eventual touring and, ipso facto, five years of punkass screaming and hollering by the vocally untrained Leslie. All that rigorous throat scraping exacted a rather precise pound of flesh from poor Feist and she was warned not to sing AT ALL in the future. Seeking professional help, Feist seeks sanctuary in Toronto to find a specialist who can help her. She spends the lonely, quiet recuperative downtime futzing about with a guitar and a four-track recorder, emerging six months later as a capable guitarist with healed vocal cords. She is promptly taken on as a guitarist for the band By Divine Right. This marks something of a hallmark in Feist's life: her willingness to hit the road with touring artists of any stripe seems boundless.

In '99, By Divine Right gets picked up as the opening band for The Tragically Hip; it's a plum gig in front of tens of thousands nightly. The cash, the exposure, the stage time and Feist's tremendous intellectual and artistic internal combustion lead to Leslie's release of her first solo album at the age of 23: "Monarch", subtitled "Lay Down Your Jeweled Head". It's a solid freshman effort that oversteps any reasonable expectations for the young punk; "Monarch" genre-bends alt-country ("One Year AD"), poppish Frente-esque chick rock ("Flight 303"), and more ambitious singer-songwriter flights of orchestration ("New Torch"). There is certainly something of the flavor of Mazzy Star, Paula Cole, Liz Phair, Beck and Suzanne Vega on these cuts, but it is also easy to determine something entirely sui generis with Feist. Her budding but unmistakably distinct musical voice is clearest on two tracks: the eponymous "Monarch" and the obvious single, "Family".

Feist - "Monarch"

"Monarch" has the potential to drown in its own bounciness, but Feist's natural talent and her ability to carry a song keep this sunny lil' ditty afloat. "Monarch" brings to mind mid-90's Tori Amos... and I mean that in a good way.

Feist - "Family"
Relentlessly catchy and utterly without irony, this is Sesame Street rocknroll. Sweet, restrained strings, feather-light bells and bob-bob-bobbing percussion provide a lovely foreground to a cock-eyed shrug of a guitar line that regularly yanks the song into a slightly more smartass, slightly more grown-up world. It's a hip-to-be-square masterpiece that roars the arrival of a notable talent.

"Monarch" was a real small press release; only a thousand copies were made and the disc is LONG out of print.

In 2000, Feist made a fateful move into what must have been THE happening house in Toronto; her roommates and occasional couch-crashers included Peaches, Mocky, Gonzales, Taylor Savvy and The World Provider. Feist befriended and performed with the lot of them, both then and now.

After Peaches' album The Teaches of Peaches met with cult success, Feist began touring with the hirsute electropop sexqueen under the AKA 'Bitch Lap Lap', "rapping badly with a sock puppet in poor Spanish wearing Cuban aerobics outfits."

FUN FEIST FACT: As Bitch Lap Lap, Feist co-recorded a cover of Prince's "Sexy Dancer" with Peaches. It's... interesting.

Anyways, these sort of ultra-gonzo happening/concerts instilled Feist with a degree of onstage confidence and intensity that permeates her current show to the nth degree. If you've been paying attention thus far, Feist's next move will hardly surprise you: in 2001, she joined back up with a sprawling new band founded by a few of the ex-members of By Divine Right and helped the collective collaborate on an album, You Forgot It In People (site includes over a dozen full-length tracks in Realaudio format), under the moniker Broken Social Scene. "You Forgot It In People" becomes an underground critical success so, once again, off goes our heroine on tour. It was in this environment that Feist begins to record tracks for her second album, "Let It Die".

That, roughly, is where we come in: a rough demo of the first single, "Mushaboom" leaks on Fluxblog in January of '04, then Said the Gramophone posts a pair of tracks at roughly the same time that the album drops in the UK. "Let It Die" is very well received overseas; US musicbloggers fall over themselves hyping her and I am certainly no exception.

I managed to scarper an import copy of "Let It Die" and I consider it to be one of the best albums made in '04. "Die" represents a massive leap forward for Feist as a solo artist; the alt-country vein has been sublimated to a background hum and the new primary thread is a delectable melange of gentle, dancing-with-myself disco and torchy smooth jazz.

Every song on "Let It Die" is either good or great: "One Evening", "Leisure Suite" and the Bee Gees cover of "Inside and Out" are sinuous, sexy adult contemporary with just enough razzmatazz and self-awareness to save them from tipping into a lake of cheese; the primal pubic rage of "When I Was a Young Girl" provides the LP's darkest note and "Tout Doucement", a silly piano-driven French trifle flies wildly in the opposite direction; "Gatekeeper", "Lonely Lonely" and the album's eponymous track allow Feist's beautiful voice to claim the spotlight on the cabaret stage; the aforementioned "Mushaboom" is everything a single has any right to hope for. "Let It Die" is a fabulous disc; the terrific lag between its release in Europe and the US (it will FINALLY see a major label American release in early April) is not only unfortunate but downright maddening. Suffice it to say, I'm glad to see signs that Leslie's Yankee takeover is going down, better late than never.

This past Tuesday, Feist performed at Joe's Pub. It was, as she pointed out onstage, not her first New York performance but it was certainly her first big "New York moment"; the first show sold out and the hastily added second show was all but completely packed.

Before I launch into the obligatory glistening concert review, here's a pair of outstanding live tracks from Feist's '04 "Black Session" on Radio France Inter:

Feist - "Gatekeeper (Live, '04)"
This musicbox gloss on "Gatekeeper" is indicative of Feist's willingness to vamp with her own material.

Feist - "Nothin' In the World Can Stop Me Worryin' About That Girl (Live, '04)"
Feist's frustration with a clapping audience that can't quite find the beat ("You guys are screwing me up!") on this Kinks hit is neatly turned back on herself with a self-effacing flourish, but there's nothin' in this world that'll convince me that this isn't a winner of a cover.

Feist's live show is a real treat. She's an intelligent artist and almost preternaturally comfortable onstage; these skills coupled with her amazingly versatile voice, her excellent guitar chops and a stellar three-piece backing band make for a helluva concert. Not content with simple recreation of the album, she approached each one of her tracks as a cover, uncovering new wrinkles and directions in every song.

Feist's banter is easy, real and endearing; during one participatory singalong, an audience member's melismas of "Iiiiiiii Doooooooawooooooahhoooo" amused her enough that she segued into a one-on-one "singoff" between the warbler and herself. That sort of showmanship could easily seem forced, corny or hostile; Leslie made it friendly and natural. Her joy at performance is downright palpable; she's having as good a time as we are.

Feist also seemed desperate to get a rise out of the crowd; she regularly indulged in verbal and physical devil's advocacy, stepping onto bar tables and daring the audience to get a little rowdy rowdy. I, for one, wish I coulda got up and danced; it was clear she was hoping we would.

While Feist's talent and enthusiasm alone would make for a great evening, she had a card or two yet to play. As her band snuck offstage, Feist began to croon softly into an auxilliary microphone attached to a four track recorder. After every chorus, her own voice would echo behind her new part. Feist harmonized over each loop until she had scratch-built a backing track of four-part harmony out of individual solos. These one-woman choirs were so audibly homogenous, eerily pitch perfect and cold-shudder sweet that involuntary gasps and audible "wows" were drawn from the crowd. She went on to repeat this trick with multiple guitar loops, also to great effect. This appears to be a new gimmick that Feist has just worked into her live act; all her previous concert recordings don't feature this cunning multi-tracking.

I'll leave you with one more bonus track, the only one that I've dropped today that's commercially available, even if it is all but unknown in America. This duet with French pop star Albin de la Simone suggests some possible future routes for Feist; she could easily worm her way into the US pop subconscious with a few well-placed name cameos.

Albin de la Simone and Feist - "Elle Aime"

Visit Albin de la Simone's official website

Buy Albin de la Simone's self-titled first album as an import from Amazon.

Feist has the potential to become a ubiquitous voice in pop America; she has the crossover capabilities of a Norah Jones. With the album dropping soon, a song on the new Massive Attack album on the way and an ever-growing web/street team, I don't see any reason why Feist shouldn't be our next internet breakout star.

Heck, considering that Interscope has yet to spread ANY American press around on this release, I think it would be reasonable to consider a strong showing by "Let It Die" to be a sign of the marketing power of musicblog hype. What do you say kids? Let's flex some muscle, add Leslie to the Arcade Fire/Secret Machines/Killers dogpile and show the labels that talent really matters.

Hype it up!

Feist's official site is crowded with content: songs snippets, wallpaper, videos, pics and general silliness abounding and TOUR DATES.

See if she's coming near you and don't miss her if she is!

Also take a look at Feist's old website.
Check out this fairly well-thought-out review of "Monarch" and another on "Let It Die".
Coolfer talks about the plans Cherry Tree, an Interscope subsidiary, has for Feist; Coolfer's also been keeping an eye on her for awhile.
Read this 2000 interview.
She's come a long way, baby... and five years later, Feist is rip-rarin' and ready to go.

"Mushaboom", "Intuition", "Leisure Suite" in RealAudio
Live solo acoustic on the streetside. Give th' gal a quarter, already!

Also: Read the accompanying article from this session.
"Mushaboom", "One Evening", "Gatekeeper" in RealAudio
Complete album cuts from the Beeb, which calls her "one of the discoveries of the year".
Five minute BBC interview in RealAudio

"You know if I just get real with myself I SUPPOSE ("chilled folk-jazz") is what this record sounds like... The rock and roll may be inside the intention there, but it's not really that audible on the record. When I'm sitting on an airplane and the person next to me says, 'So, what kind of music do you make?,' it's the most impossible question to answer. I just say "Yeah, you're right" for whatever anyone says about it or however they want to describe it, because I'm the last to know how to put a title on this type of music."

Struggling to come up with a label that encompasses her elusive style but doesn't turn off a prospective buying public, Feist has chosen to take the cagey route and call her music "Jhai".

Fuck a label, sez I.
"Gatekeeper" in MP3 format
Left-hand side, scroll down a bit.
In 2000, the Peaches/Gonzales/Feist collective played a long show on WFMU Radio.
Give a listen to Part 1 (performance starts around 1:26) and Part 2 (performance starts around 1:40) in RealAudio format.
"Lovertits", a collabo with Gonzales, in MP3

Scroll down to the highlighted track.

Here's a great answer for anybody who thinks that Feist is only capable of doing the cutesygirl singer-songwriter schtick; this is great minimalist fuckmusic with a toe-tappin' chorus. Required stuff.
Lots of songs in RealAudio format, including _several_ from the oop "Monarch"

HOWEVER, I use an ersatz Realplayer that doesn't support these tracks (I'm not interested in Real's fairly bulky and unpleasant software), so I've yet to test drive these. Could a Hut reader let me know if these are active and accessible?
Conor Oberst cover of Mushaboom in MP3

Courtesy of fellow Feist-fanatic, Brooklyn Vegan.

This sounds pretty freakin' horrible to me and does NOT motivate me to seek out any more Bright Eyes. On the plus side, it's gratifying to see that this song seems to be jockeying for hip "standard" status so soon.