Let It Die – Feist

Let It Die

Feist

Interscope Records

2004

Leslie Feist has one of the most beautiful, melancholic voices in modern music currently.  I figured I should say that before I start this review.  Because of her amazing vocal power she is not only able to keep a successful solo career, but also stay a rotational member of Broken Social Scene, and lend her talent to other bands such as: Kings of Convenience, Wilco, and Beck’s experimental Record Club.  Although she has her own style of singing, she has a very developed sound which she’ll turn from quiet whispering to the rare occurence of a forceful harmonization.

Let it Die is Feist’s second solo album, following the now out-of-print Monarch (Lay Your Jewelled Head Down).  Indeed, this sophomore effort is largely attributed to be her breakout album.  It was nominated for three Juno Awards in 2005, another one in 2006, and was certified platinum in Canada.  All of this success would mean nothing though if it wasn’t a creative and artistic triumph (like many popular bands that I can’t stand at all).  But the acoustic, often slow-paced Let It Die is a record that accomplishes all of the above, growing on the listener even more for every play-through.

The album opens with Gatekeeper, a perfect introduction to the album.  Like most of the songs on this album, an acoustic guitar and Feist’s soothing voice are the main sounds on this song.  In the background is Gonzales’ harmony and his reserved piano.  They’re very light touches, but do round out the song, making a more full sound.  This track was a collaborative effort between the two, and their lyrics often portray a subtle poetic language.  The line “Gatekeeper, you held your breath, made the winter go on and on” expresses a disconsolate, yet not pessimistic mood that’s found throughout the rest of Let it Die.

This brooding optimism is found in full force on “Mushaboom,” the first single from the record.  It is my favorite song, and the first one I ever heard from Feist.  After a short piano intro, a bouncy rhythm soon comes in.  The percussion section consists of not much more than relentless clapping, a fragrant tambourine, and very subtle drums.  In actual fact, the whole song relies on suggestive nuances.  Gonzales’ responding “shboom shboom” during the chorus is very faint, and the only guitar solo is backed up by refined piano chords.  Of course, it must be said this is one of Feist’s most passioned performances, adding intimacy to the imagery of the lyrics.  The descriptive narrative focuses on the hopefulness of the future, while comparing it with the present situation.  One of the best lines shows this perfectly: “Collecting moments one by one, I guess that’s how the future’s done.” 

The third song is the title track.  At its molasses pace, it must be listened to intently to be thoroughly enjoyed.  Feist’s vocal lines jump from her raspy whispering to a deep, affecting wail.  There are different instruments that break up the slowness of the song such as a nice piano and trombone (the latter played by Julien Chirol).  Yet, these differences don’t detract from the song, but they add a certain flavor needed to keep interest.  It’s a nice variety that increases the small touches on the album.

“One Evening” follows a Bossa Nova, jazz feel.  The drumming does add a strange percussive rhythm to the song, creating one of the more interesting songs here.  The melody is addictive, and contains a nice double-tracked vocal styling.  So, we get to hear another of Leslie’s talents: harmonizing.  Technically, I believe she is doing this with herself, seeing as there are no other credits on the album other than the three previously mentioned – and a saxophone by Frédéric Coudere.  Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful close arrangement of voices, filling out the sound on the track.

“Leisure Suite” features Coudere’s saxophone, again, very subtly though.  The guitar and keyboard interplay with each other in the accompaniment.  While it’s one of the weaker songs on Let It Die, the Wurlitzer sound of the keyboard does make for some interesting sound effects.  As does the snapping fingers, creating a definite Beat-poetry-reading vibe to the song.  But that makes sense, because Feist does use a jazz emphasis on this album.

The passive “Lonely Lonely” is next, again keeping a dawdling beat.  It is one of the more depressing songs in this collection, and the music only adds to this propensity.  The acoustic guitar is extremely quiet, allowing Feist to sing in a near a cappella style.  There are a few other sounds here and there, but for the most part, they keep to themselves.  This song however does have one of her most sultry performances, letting her belt out the second-to-last verse before returning to the crooning whisper she adopts for most of the song.  The instrumental ending does pick up the pace of the song in a light-hearted way, bringing in some breathing room to let the song sink in.

“When I Was a Young Girl” starts off the cavalcade of cover songs on the rest of the album.  A traditional song, the drumming brings out a tribal nature to the track.  This may be disproportional to most of the other songs in theory, but somehow fits in perfectly.  With different instruments being added over the course of the song (such as the copying electric guitar solo and plucked piano chords), and the short time of 3:08, it keeps the audience interested.

“Secret Heart” is a cover of a Ron Sexsmith song.  The music is very interesting, with a bass part played by strings?  Maybe on the keyboard.  I can’t really tell.  Nonetheless, this almost steals the focus from Feist great singing to this syncopated melody. 

This bass sound continues onto “Inside and Out.”  A cover of a 1979 Bee Gees’ song.  True to its disco nature, the track keeps the cheesy keyboard string section and drumming.  The chorus is surprisingly huge; Feist, if she had been a ’70’s singer would fit in perfectly with the music of the era.  Although I absolutely despise disco, Feist does change the song to fit her style, and one has to admit it takes confidence to cover a 1970’s hit.  Especially one by a group as lame as the Bee Gees.

Next is the song “Tout Document” originally by Blossom Dearie, who I have never heard of before.  Apparently, she is a jazz singer from the ’50’s, which explains the bouncy jazziness of Feist’s version.  And the French lyrics.  Again, Leslie plays to her strengths, picking a song that fits her vocal style, and showing off her eclectic taste in music.  An effervescent piano backs her singing up, even pushing it forward with a beautiful key change.  Even with its obscurity, this is one of the best songs on the album.

Lastly is “Now at Last,” by another unknown (to me, anyway) artist, Bob Haymes.  He appears to be another 1950’s jazz musician.  Again the piano is the main instrument in Feist’s version, though this is more of a straightforward piano ballad than the previous track.  Her voice combined with the melodic piano creates a classy combination as Feist dances around the words.  Her alluring voice ends the song, and album, on a graceful, refined tone.  Certainly, she has one of the best voices out there today, and this song proves it, if you didn’t believe so before with the previous ten songs.

Of course, with the album now behind us, it’s a comforting piece of work.  Leslie Feist’s vocals are the main attraction of course, but Gonzales provides perfect atmosphere.  His piano and other instruments allow her voice to soar, and her guitar plays an even further back idea to that.  That being said, this is a record easy to get lost in, and to really enjoy it, that is what one has to do.  The music provides extremely subtle ideas, and the words coexist with a sense of melodic poetry.  Let it Die asks the audience to focus, and for that, it’s a rewarding experience.

Buy this Album

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