Despite well-received appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and a thriving career in Canada, Leslie Feist seemed destined to be no more than a cult artist in this country. That is, until a TV commercial for the iPod Nano began featuring the childlike indie-pop tune "1234" from her masterfully executed 2007 release The Reminder. That coast-to-coast corporate boost, along with a note-perfect performance of the track on Letterman, was exactly the push the clever Canadian needed. Today, she sells out pretty much every venue she plays.
The depth Feist displays on The Reminder shouldn't surprise anyone. Her work with Broken Social Scene, former roommate Peaches and musician/producer Gonzales, as well as stints in touring Canadian punk and indie-rock bands, demonstrates that she's always been game for musical experimentation. Open Season, her catchall 2006 album of remixes, B-sides, alternate takes and other sonic tchotchkes, is full of sly, half-whispered folk-pop and club-ready material. Let It Die, the full-length release that preceded it, more or less sticks with the breathy indie material and owes something to Everything But the Girl's work with Massive Attack, Cat Power and old-school Brazilian pop.
But that's no crime. A lot of terribly sophisticated U.S. indie-rockers would kill for soft, hip-rolling tunes like the Canadian hit "Gatekeeper" and the pop-folk gem "Mushaboom."
As for The Reminder, it's the rare contemporary pop album that's worth listening to from beginning to end. "1234" is just the tip of the iceberg. On the Gonzales-produced "My Moon, My Man," Feist floats gracefully atop a stripped-down backing track that suggests Roxy Music's "Love Is the Drug." On the shuffling "Feel It All" she's as sweet as the Sugar Plum Fairy and nearly as deliquescent. Looking for something moodier? Both "Brandy Alexander" and the wistful "The Limit to Your Love" have the aching Dusty Springfield vibe down cold.
These days, articles about Feist inevitably compare her to Amy Winehouse, an artist with whom she shares some superficial similarities. But unlike the retro-minded English singer, Feist isn't restricted to any particular style. That's a major advantage, not to mention a big reason she'll be filling concert halls around the world long after that iPod commercial has fallen out of rotation.