Ever since Florence + The Machine impacted in North America about a year ago with Dog Days Are Over, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities between Florence Welch and another similar sounding singer Leslie Feist. Aside from their sound, in which both singers have that almost throaty sound to their vocal stylings, they both became darlings on the indie music scene and eventually broke into the mainstream with one single that was inescapable, which led to major public appearances for both in places such as the Grammy Awards. While it hasn’t happened yet, I’m betting both will end up traveling the same path as far as popularity goes before going their separate ways.
Feist was in her late 20s before finding success with her second album Let It Die. The first I heard of her was with her cover of the Bee Gees‘ Inside And Out, which got some light radio airplay in 2005. I got the album after hearing Mushaboom which I feel like became her signature song up until this point. Two years later, her song 1,2,3,4 was featured in an Apple iPod nano commercial and from there it took off. Despite only having a minimal part in the lyrics, it would quickly become the song she was most known for and helped her third album The Reminder go on to sell over one million copies and get recognition from both the Grammys and Junos. At that point, Feist was a favourite amongst indie music fans but that favouritism seemed to dwindle after 1,2,3,4 was everywhere for the next half a year or so. She has been on the downlow since then until earlier this year when it was revealed that she would be putting out her fourth record later in the year.
Florence + The Machine released Lungs in the summer of 2009. It was pretty much an instant success at home in the UK but it took well over a year for Dog Days Are Over to crossover to North America. During the early days of Dog Days Are Over in mid-2010, I remember the buzz for Florence. It seemed like she was the new thing that everyone was talking about. Pretty soon, the song was everywhere from the radio to Glee. Florence herself made some major appearances such as an the Grammys and the Academy Awards. Half of the songs on Lungs were released as singles in the UK with You’ve Got The Love being the biggest hit but in North America, Florence is known pretty much for Dog Days. Even though it’s been almost two and a half years since the release of Lungs, it took over half that time to break into North America so fans on this side of the ocean seemingly have a shorter wait from the discovery of Lungs to a new album coming out later this year.
Both singers received rave reviews for their respective projects and both are critics’ darlings. Although it took Feist a little bit longer to go from indie fav to the mainstream, both made it and are now in the same position. Pretty much going head-to-head.
Florence’s new single What The Water Gave Me starts off mellow. I get an instant 80s vibe when the vocals cut in with Florence’s voice touched up by such production backed by a 4/4 thump that sounds out of that decade supported by a twinkling piano and reverberated drums and guitar. Then we are presented with a chorus “lay me down/let the only sound/be the overflow/pockets full of stones,” with huge back-up vocals. From here, the song goes from quiet to loud, gentle to booming, all the while supported by huge drums, massive vocal back-up and a commanding chorus that finally takes over near the end.
Feist’s new single How Come You Never Go There has a jazzy musical backup with horns backing up the down-tempoed track. I picture a smokey bar with Feist at the front casually singing and wooing the small indifferent audience. The chorus is fairly repetitive consisting mostly of “whoa”s and the lines “how come you never go there/how come I’m so alone there.”
Musically speaking, neither song is a major departure from the sound of either singer however Florence clearly has the upper hand. First of all, What The Water Gave Me takes just a couple of listens until it’s been captured whereas How Come You Never Go There might never imbed itself into your brain. Florence is capitalizing off of the very recent success of Lungs whereas it’s been four years since Feist released her last album and four years is enough time for people to move on. Feist can capitalize off of long-awaited anticipation but my thoughts are her fanbase are the type to be turned off by the surprise success of 1,2,3,4. Even if she can win over critics again, it’ll be a tough sell to win over her main audience.
Florence has yet to have any major downtime since the initial success in North America. People have had time to fall in love, play out the songs and want something more and will be getting it right away. The interest for the new Florence record will be high. However, I predict the shelf life for it won’t nearly be as long as that of Lungs. Within a year, Florence may be in the same boat as Feist. Unfortunately, as with Feist, the audience that was won over by Florence will have been turned off by the mainstream success leaving her only for the people that don’t care about popularity status. I think both singer can maintain themselves in their own way. Feist is a member of the well-respected Canadian group Broken Social Scene and I think in time, Florence will spread out to new areas by doing collaborations and perhaps songs for movies. For the time-being though, it will be interesting to see how Feist’s new album is received and whether Florence follows suit or somehow manages break out of the indie box in 2012 into massive mainstream success.