"The Reminder," Feist
For argument's sake, let's say pop and rock musicians can be divided into two camps: those who dig sounds and those who dig songs. On the sound side you've got people like Björk and Jimi Hendrix, for whom songs are mainly vehicles for sonic exploration. On the song side you've got your Paul McCartneys and Elvis Costellos, tunesmiths more concerned with putting together a well-built composition than experimenting with far-out sounds. On her mellow and seductive debut, "Let It Die," released in 2004, Amherst, Nova Scotia-born singer-songwriter Feist leaned to the song side, featuring tunes by the Bee Gees and Ron Sexsmith as well as her own instantly hummable soul-folk tracks, like the ad-friendly "Mushaboom." But with her new disc, "The Reminder," the newly high-profile 31-year-old has swung over to the sound side, with less satisfactory results.
In the small handful of moments when Feist (born Leslie Feist) reaches back into "Let It Die's" bag of tricks and pulls out a coolly sinister piano pop gem like "My Moon, My Man" or the bluesy, shuffling "Past in Present," she comes off like a hipper, more cosmopolitan version of Norah Jones. That's no dig. Like Jones, Feist has a gorgeously smoky voice and relaxed, breezy way with a pop song that's the stuff of mass success. The problem is that Feist treats the upbeat songs as momentary trifles. The majority of her album is given over to meandering songs like "The Water," "Limit to Your Love" and too many others that just sort of ooze along, weighed down by crawling tempos and pointless headphone atmospherics (barely audible strings, a small army of softly tinkling keyboards, a choir of Feists for backing vocals).
Feist's preoccupation with unusual tones and timbres even infects the way she uses her best asset -- her voice. On the damp torch songs that dominate "The Reminder," Feist stretches out almost every syllable, she repeats lines over and over with slight variations in her attack, and she distracts from the lead vocal with her own multitracked backing parts. All these vocals sound like the musical equivalent of a child seeing how many different faces he or she can make in the mirror -- guileless, but not that interesting. The same can be said for the album as a whole. And that's too bad, because there's just enough on this disc, and in Feist's past, to suggest she has more to offer than background music.
Favorite track: "I Feel It All"
"Beyond," Dinosaur Jr.
On their distortion-drenched and heartfelt late-'80s albums "Bug" and "You're Living All Over Me," Dinosaur Jr. got as close as any band ever has to capturing the inarticulate angst of being young, frustrated and completely unable to speak to girls. But like the sentiments of so many of its best songs the band turned out to be a fragile thing -- the band's original members, guitarist and main songwriter J. Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph, recorded their last album together in 1989. Dinosaur Jr. soldiered on until 1997 in what basically amounted to a Mascis solo project, but in 2004 the original lineup got back together as a touring unit. "Beyond" is the result of the trio's first return to the studio since their reunion. I'm glad to say the band sounds as emotionally immature, inarticulate and, for the most part, splendid as ever.
Even more than the band's older albums were, "Beyond" is built on Mascis' gargantuan, fuzzy guitar playing. Whether it's the ruddy jangle of "We're Not Alone," the alternately smooth and gnarled soloing on "Crumble" or the metallic tar pit that is "Pick Me Up," Mascis uses his guitar to eloquently and forcefully say what his words only suggest. But the album isn't just a dream for guitar heads. "Almost Ready" and "Been There All the Time" showcase the band's skill at marrying amplifier squalls with classic song structure. Stripped of their electricity, those songs would sound a lot like country music. Even Mascis' lyrics come off like the introverted longhaired cousin of country-music poetry, boiling down to simple variations on "I miss you," "I want you" and "I don't know how to tell you either of those two things."
"Beyond" isn't just Mascis' show, though. Murph's fill-laden drum work gives Mascis an energetic platform from which to launch his guitar assaults. And Barlow, who formed the influential lo-fi outfit Sebadoh after leaving Dino Jr., contributes two propulsive, cathartic originals and some roiling bass work. The trio might not completely reach the heights of their best material -- a couple of tracks seem like song sketches Mascis decided to fill in with guitar solos -- but "Beyond" is a welcome return.
Favorite track: "Pick Me Up"
-- David Marchese