Feist arrives with a variety of styles on her U.S. debut

No trickery on her introspective 'Let It Die'


September 08, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

It's not easy to resist the pull of it. As the sleek, stark arrangements mingling elements of lounge jazz, folk, bossa nova and Sade-like pop balladry unfurl, the voice of Feist is almost hypnotic. Let It Die, her latest album and debut CD in the United States, is a beguiling set of introspective love songs. Not much extravagant instrumentation going on. And the Canadian singer-songwriter never tries to blow you away with overdone histrionics. There's an appealing, smooth detachment to her approach.

"The aesthetic of anything I've recorded has been simple, only what's necessary," says Feist, who's calling from the road en route to an engagement in Ottawa. She plays the Birchmere in Alexandria Sunday night. "It's not to complicate, no smoke and mirrors."

The varied styles on the album are finely tailored to the artist's less-is-more style.

"I call it Let It Die because that's kind of a chameleon phrase," Feist says. "It can be an encouragement or a discouragement. It depends on your interpretation."

Born Leslie Feist in Calgary, Alberta, 29 years ago, the singer-songwriter (she goes strictly by her last name) started her career in high school, playing for a punk band. She and the group toured for five years, even opening for the Ramones once. But all that screaming and belting eventually strained Feist's vocals. During the six months away from the stage in 1998, she refocused, bought a guitar and developed the airy, pop-leaning sound that has manifested fully on Let It Die. It's her first album to receive distribution through a major label: Interscope / Universal Records.

Her previous effort -- 1999's Monarch (Lay Down Your Jeweled Head) -- was independently released in Canada and received limited attention. Around the same time, Feist toured with vulgar electronica vixen Peaches, contributing background vocals to the artist's 2000 debut, The Teaches of Peaches. The frankness and downright nastiness of her friend's music didn't exactly rub off on Feist, whose approach lyrically and vocally is much more refined and nuanced.

In 2002, Feist joined the highly experimental rock outfit Broken Social Scene and appeared on its sophomore album, You Forget It in People, which became an indie smash in Canada that year. The band's all-over-the-place productions left hardly any trace on Feist's soundscapes, which are focused and restrained.

"The songs can flip bitter or sweet," Feist says, "so it's all about how you hear it."

With a Peggy Lee-like coolness, she interprets mostly lovesick tunes from her own pen. But she adds a few covers. She gorgeously renders Ron Sexsmith's "Secret Heart" and brings a hip, Euro chic feel to the Bee Gees' "Inside and Out," an album highlight.

"I wasn't scared to try random covers on the record," Feist says. "I wasn't around during the Bee Gees' heyday. Maybe that song entered in a subconscious way. Maybe I was coloring in front of the stereo when I was a child and my mother was playing the Bee Gees. ... And the song just stuck. I don't know."

As Feist plays international dates to promote Let It Die, she says the last thing on her mind is the next project.

"It's like grasping at shadows," she says. "But it will all come clear eventually."

Catch Feist at the Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, Sunday night at 7:30. Tickets are $17.50 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or visiting www.ticketmaster.com.

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