In 2004, veteran Canadian indie-rock scenester Leslie Feist gathered some songs she'd recorded with friends in Paris and released them as Let It Die, a belated follow-up to her 1999 solo debut, Monarch (Lay Down Your Jeweled Head). The second record was slight by design, but likeable—the perfect soundtrack for a day of lounging about, doing nothing. And while Let It Die became an unexpected cult hit, riding the popularity of the catchy single "Mushaboom" and a cover of Bee Gees' "Love You Inside Out," Feist doesn't intensify her approach at all on her eagerly awaited new record The Reminder. Back in Paris with expatriate pianist Chilly Gonzales and an assortment of fellow travelers, Feist puts together a set of songs more assured and striking than those on Let It Die, but with the same offhand, lazing-around-on-a-rainy-afternoon feel.
It's easy to hear the appeal—both to fans and to industry honchos—of songs like "My Moon My Man" and "1234," which share some of the genteel neo-cabaret leanings of hitmakers Norah Jones and Corinne Bailey Rae. But as a musician, Feist has more in common with explorers like Kate Bush, Björk, and Regina Spektor. That's apparent from her take on Nina Simone's version of the traditional folk song "See Line Woman"; Feist maintains the original's mystical, rhythmic flavor and adds the modern urgency of electric guitars and subtle electronics. Throughout The Reminder, Feist keeps the instrumentation spare, the better to accentuate the way she plays old sounds against new, the spiritual against the secular, and theatrics against sincerity. The Reminder sounds best on headphones, since its rich room tone and casual instrumental interplay is essential to the experience. Songs like "The Water," all moody shimmer, are like an introduction to what it's like to be Feist. It doesn't seem half-bad.