Feist – Monarch: Lay Down Your Jeweled Head

Leslie Feist, poltergeist, I before E, except after c or when talking about popular singer Leslie Feist, as in “Leslie Feist, poltergeist.”

Well, this is a nice little debut. Ten songs of standard song length, the best of which is the opener “It’s Cool to Love Your Family”, which breaks my heart a little because I don’t particularly love mine, but heart-breaking is a good sign from a happy song. Maybe it’ll make you love your family more!

But seriously, my closest family member is my father, and we’re getting farther apart with every week that passes. Half of it is the part where he always says he’ll call me to come see me and never does, but a bigger half is this weird conservative turn he’s taken in the last few years. It seems to have started when he went to Israel and had a spiritual revelation that, apparently, Barack Obama hates Jews. Not having grown up with the internet, he lacks the necessary bullshit filter, and believes wholesale everything he reads on wacky far-right websites, so I now regularly (~twice weekly) get these uber-Republican emails with this week’s choice quotes and articles from well-known (to us savvy folk) rabble-rousing right-wing pundits like Mark “muslims breed like mosquitos” Steyn, Pamela “Islam is of the devil” Gellar, Jonah “liberal fascism” Goldberg, Dennis “I’m a decent guy with some unfortunate viewpoints” Prager, and David “Universities are nothing but liberal, anti-semitic indoctrination” Horowitz, as well as prominent conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and Benjamin Netanyahu and such. These emails all have the same unnerving Judeo-centric far-right angles: Obama hates Israel and will do anything to destroy it, Muslims are scary and will all attack us, “the media” is all left wing and hates Israel (except Fox, which is wonderful), and most importantly, vote Republican vote Republican vote Republican it’s the only way the Democrats want to exterminate Jews be afraid Hitler Hitler. Apparently, being a “real Jew” now means blindly supporting any warhawk, no matter how obscene, blindly supporting everything Israel does and any violence it inflicts without comment, and only trusting an echo chamber of far-right politicians pundits who repeat talking points endlessly and unapologetically lie to make their arguments sound better.

Worse still, because Israel shouldn’t fucking matter to anybody not named Hillel ben-Jewstein or Ahmed bin-Islamolaughs, Dad’s getting increasingly cookie-cutter conservative about everything else. Maybe it’s standard conservative aging-drift, maybe it’s from reading articles written by creationist global-warming denying homophobes day after day (even though he is none of those things). When we do talk he’s always on about how I should get a normal job and marry and raise a family and be a decent hard-working guy, which is funny considering he was a voice actor all his adult life. What’s more, but being a “decent hard-working guy,” naturally, means identifying with all the “values” of the Canadian Conservative party, and supporting them even if they have none of those values. Last time I needed a new doctor he encouraged me to get a “MALE doctor” (emphasis his). He hates unions even though he belonged to one his entire adult life (and ACTRA is one of the most vicious unions out there). Lower taxes and cut services, and to hell with people other than ourselves. We should elect only “everyday guys I’d like to have have a beer with” even though I don’t want to have a beer with a plumber from the suburbs, and never mind that any politician passing themselves off as “normal people” is a used car salesman, smiling and telling you to just trust them, everything complicated has a nice simple solution.

Okay, so it’s standard father-son conservative-liberal stuff, but it still gets on me, especially when he seemed to change so quickly. It’s like he turned 60 and suddenly became a sucker for hucksters’ slimy tricks. I used to fancy my dad a smart guy, so it’s disappointing.

The rest of the album isn’t much like it, really, with it’s driving rhythm, standard verse-structure, and radio-ready vocal hooks – but tell me you aren’t in love with the last verse all the way to that “yeah yeah!” at the end! It makes everything melt!

After that it gets less conventional, but stays a bunch of soft-rock songs, usually led by acoustic guitar or other organic instruments, making her come across as a very oblique singer-songwriter, never writing about herself directly, unless you count the fact that most of the songs are forlorn love songs set in a Princess Bride-esque world. Really, she sounds like she’s pining for the Dread Pirate Jake “The Snake” Roberts much of the time, aside from placing songs in modern contexts. I feel like this paragraph is way too all over the place, but I’m hungry so let’s keep going!

The best thing it has going for it is Feist’s voice, which carries the whole album. It’s pure and lovely and hits every note so hard the notes are sent back to the minors to work on their velocity. “The Mast,” particularly, has some heartbreakers, including some appropriate falsetto with it’s great lovelorn lyrics. Sadly, many of the songs are completely forgettable and blend into cooing mush aside from the opener and the title track. Not that they’re not nice, they’re just not exciting sexually.  However, the only bad song is “#303” with it’s terribly annoying childish vocal “hook” and musically completely ripping off of “Family.” Gah! But the others are nice, though they’re a little too backgroundy.

Most of the songs have unnecessary orchestration, which I don’t much like either. It really works on “Monarch,” where the strings play an impressive hook and carry that shit musically, but otherwise? I realize that background violins are sort of this album’s thing, but certain sounds have certain connotations in today’s post 9/11 world, and violins in this capacity sound pretentious and bombastic.

This album foreshadows her future work stylistically and features a couple great songs, but it’s not there yet. Can you believe it’d be five years until her next album? That’s a lot of handjobs! I wonder to what extent people would call me a “shock jock.” I hope only a little.

6/10

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