As may soon become painfully obvious, I know very little about remix albums. I am not a professional DJ, nor do I have the disposable income to seek out discs containing 14 subtly different versions of the same song. It’s a culture I’ve been blissfully ignorant of for a long time. But apparently, so has Feist. In the liner notes to Open Season, her own record of tampered-with goods, she admits, “At first I didn’t really understand what remixes were. If I squinted into the air I knew I could hear old songs with added beats piping out of radios, but I didn’t know why or how that happened.” And so Feist and I set out together on a journey of discovery (oh how I’ve longed to utter that sequence of words) to perhaps see what all of the fuss is about.
With selections culled primarily from the justifiably celebrated Let It Die, Open Season turns out not to be what I would expect from such affairs, which is a great thing. The album opens with a solo piano rendition (by producer Gonzalez) of “One Evening”, effectively destroying preconceptions of beats per minute, pacifiers, and glow-sticks. I’m a firm believer that when remixing or revisiting a given piece of music, there should be clear reasons for the alterations beyond sheer novelty. The simple, sparse opening of “One Evening” instills confidence that the collaborators not only approached their tasks with a sense of fun and experimentation, but with the intent to make sure the results were worthwhile listening. Feist’s own cover of the Bee Gees’ “Inside + Out” on Let It Die was a marked improvement over the original, retaining the cheesy disco charm at the same time making the seduction believable. Here, it’s presented by Apostle of Hustle as an “UnMix”, completely devoid of beats and synths, just a wonderfully craggy acoustic guitar and re-recorded Feist vocal. The reduction brings out the loneliness and desperation that were always in the song, just under the surface.
Of course, despite these successes, the album also contains a healthy amount of tedium, with almost a third of its length devoted to different mixes of the beloved “Mushaboom”. I could waste thousands of words here professing my undying love for the original single, so why isn’t four new versions of the song a good thing? Posing the question make the answer obvious. The quad-Mushaboom attack on Open Season threatens to dismantle the original’s power further with each successive play. Positioning the four across the record evenly gives the illusion that listening to this album start-to-finish is a viable option. Maybe once or twice, but after that the Mushabooms grow exponentially and one is forced to cut up the record, or at least program it to play only one’s favorite mix. I cast my vote for Postal Service’s take, ironically for best preserving the original’s spirit even through layers of skittering electronica and Ben Gibbard’s added vocals. The rest are best saved for fashion runways and small automobile commercials.
Apart from the remixes, Open Season features a few collaborative tracks from other artists’ albums, a happy incentive for the Feist collector. “Snow Lion” is a gorgeous bit of trip-hop from Readymade FC’s Babilonia disc. Digital beats, rippling harp, and theremin provide the backdrop for Feist’s cool, sultry delivery. Feist’s vocal gifts are many — maximum evocation with minimal circus tricks and antics, like an indie rock Sade. What’s that woefully overused word? Gravitas? Feist’s got it. How many contemporary voices can make complete sense with both Jane Birkin (“The Simple Story”) and Peaches (“Lovertits”). Granted, the gulf between “Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus” and “Fuck the Pain Away” is less than one might think, but Feist’s voice does possess a timelessness that makes it appropriate in a wide variety of settings, and makes legions of other talented folks want to work with her.
Feist – Inside + Out