Broken Social queens

Feist reveals her avant side and Stars’ Amy Millan goes solo
By SIMON W. VOZICK-LEVINSON  |  September 11, 2006

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AIR MAIL: Feist gets a first-class laptop mix from the Postal Service on Open Season.
Since rising to indie prominence with 2002’s You Forgot It in People (Arts & Crafts), Canada’s Broken Social Scene have famously perfected the art of spreading themselves far too thin in all the right ways. Originally just a Toronto-based duo, the Juno Award–winning indie band evolved into an oversized Canadian collective with a membership list that now reads like a Montreal club hipster’s phonebook — names like Charles Spearin from Do Make Say Think, Stars singer Evan Cranley, Metric’s Emily Haines, and singer Leslie Feist (a/k/a Feist). Broken Social Scene’s label, Arts & Crafts, has widened their circle of friends further. And if you believe the blogs, anyone who’s ever had anything to do with BSS has a worthy side project or three. It’s a cottage industry of spinoffs and tie-ins.

Yet there’s no central sonic æsthetic: each of the dozen-plus artists tied to Broken Social Scene has a distinct sound. It’s fairly easy, for example, to tell the difference between the neo-new-wave anthems of Stars and the Francophile pop of Metric. That clarity tends not to hold for the mother ship, whose most recent album was a hypnotic dust storm of sharp hooks and casual rhythms that only sometimes resolved into recognizable verse/chorus/verse songs. But on a pair of recent solo releases from the Arts & Crafts roster, the personalities of two of the women who sing with the band come into sharp focus.

Feist cultivated a sophisticated, continental air with Let It Die (Interscope), which arrived in the US last year to near-universal praise. Recorded a couple of years earlier during a sojourn in Paris, it was a smooth slice of laid-back, Starbucks-ready, electro-organic folk pop — think Beth Orton with better songs. But Feist had her share of more-eclectic credentials, even if they didn’t show on her breakout album. Her new fans could hardly have guessed that she’d recently toured with electro pottymouth Peaches and had even shared a house with her and an acquaintance who’s been described as an “anarchist free school folk choir director.”

Feist’s new collection of B-sides, rarities, and remixes, Open Season (Arts& Crafts/Cherry Tree/Interscope), uncovers some avant-garde leanings. But it takes its sweet time getting there. First we get a solo piano version of “One Evening” and an unplugged live take on the Bee Gees tune “Inside Out.” Both are even more restrained and tasteful than the versions on Let It Die. The album eases into experimental waters with Mocky’s elastic recasting of “Mushaboom”; soon Feist is nodding her head to a boom-bapping spin on the same standout song, courtesy of north-of-the-border hip-hop MC K-Os. A few songs later, the Postal Service stamp out a first-class laptop mix of their own, Ben Gibbard interrupting Feist’s chorus in his wide-eyed way as Jimmy Tamborello’s synths chatter away in the backdrop.

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