7 Feist, The Reminder
Leslie Feist is not to be faulted for the sudden ubiquity of “1-2-3-4,” in my experience the second-most inescapable song of 2007 (strangely, “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John was even more prevalent, the airborne soundtrack to an untold number of my retail expeditions); that's what happens when a musician, attempting to make a living, licenses a song (and video) to Apple.
But what's easy to overlook or forget in the face of that relative pop stardom is the skill underlying the catchiness; Feist is a hell of a songwriter, a pop songstress with a folkie's heart, a wonderful voice and the musicianly skill to match. She's also adept at subtlety, often eschewing the easy hook in favour of the slow grower, resulting in an album of such soft and warm comforts that you'd be excused for failing to separate the music from the memory of the sweet summer evening on which you first heard it.
What it all makes plain is that Feist's greatest trick wasn't in transcending the indie ghetto for greater notice, and it wasn't in writing and crafting such sophisticated pop, the perfect vehicle for her lovely voice; no, her greatest trick is in making it all sound so easy.
6 Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
How were the Arcade Fire to follow up Funeral, that nocturnal, epic, wistful paean to youth even as its passing was being acknowledged and mourned? The answer hinged on whether or not that album's success, its singular and sustained artistic vision, was simply a fluke or the product of unique talent and sensitivity. Neon Bible provides a wealth of answers, as well as raising no shortage of new ones.
None of it was accidental, of course, except in that manner of all artistic expression touched by fortune and timing. Neon Bible stares further into the themes of their debut, but comes up darker, more starkly dystopian. It also suggests, both sonically and thematically, the work of Bruce Springsteen in a way that was either absent or easily overlooked with Funeral (or maybe we were all busy playing up the Talking Heads comparisons). At a remove, the comparisons become more obvious; this duo of releases takes on the feel of the progression from Born to Run's heroism and bombast to Darkness on the Edge of Town's unbridled cynicism.
It's fitting, then, that the Arcade Fire toured with Springsteen this year, and videos circulating on the internet of the artists trading off each others' songs – Springsteen's “State Trooper” and AF's “Keep the Car Running” - suggest the synergy of this seemingly unlikely teaming.
It would have been easy, in the wake of their initial success, to write this band off as products of the indie hype machine. Listening to Neon Bible fairly puts the lie to that notion. Rather they are a significant presence on the wider rock stage, and figure to be around for some time yet, which is good news for all of us.