Leslie Feist, who goes simply as Feist, creates music that strike a balance between what has come before and where the future lies. She also bridges the gap between independent and commercial artist. In other words her music is capable of appealing to a variety of tastes and generations. Her 2007 release The Reminder, with its ubiquitous hit “1-2-3-4,” crossed over to mainstream mega-success and garnered the artist enormous attention. Taking a step back form her new celebrity status, Feist retreated to the country north of Toronto for eighteen months of quiet living.
The songs on Metals began to coalesce last winter with the help of Feist’s long time collaborators Gonzales and Mocky Salole. The recording process moved to Big Sur, California and wrapped in under three weeks. Metals, unlike its predecessor, is a sparse, mostly melancholy affair with Feist writing in what she calls “purple and mauves.” Her mood is contemplative with songs starting quietly then slowly building tension. Like the album’s title, these emotional songs are mutable things whose burning core is shielded by its cooling edge. The subject matters suggest a relationship under duress. “The Bad In Each Other” explores how two good people can bring out the worst in each other. It is a rhythm driven track built on percussion, sax, tamborine and a guitar riff reminiscent of Richard Thompson. Again this sentiment is found on “Comfort Me” in which Feist sings “When you comfort me/it doesn’t bring me comfort/actually.” It’s brutal sentiment, but honest. The pace picks up on “A Commotion.” Once again the songs begins almost tentatively but builds from a beating piano chord and Feist’s lone vocals to pounding drums, strings, and shouting male chorus. Offsetting that is “Cicadas and Gull” a simple folk song with featuring only acoustic guitar and vocals.
There are a few surprises on the album, like a string quartet and male vocal choruses. San Francisco’s Real Vocal String Quartet offers its services on several tracks including the lovely “The Circle Married the Line.” They also sing the chanting chorus of “The Undiscovered First.” Oboes and other woodwinds sneak in from time to time but only to punctuate the action. A plaintive piano underscores Feist’s vocals on “Bittersweet Melodies.” The arrangements are expansive allowing for instruments to reverberate and sigh. Throughout, Feist’s delicate lilting vocals float above the music like an ethereal sprite. It’s amazing to think that a decade ago her music career was in jeopardy due to damage to her vocal chords accrued from years of singing with her punk rock band, Placebo. She’s learned her lesson, turning her voice into a seductive thing that wraps around instrumentation and earning her the right to be categorized to as a chanteuse.
Metals weds elements of folk, electronica, and to a degree, pop but not to the extent of her last release. It is much closer to her 2004 release Let It Die. The closest you’ll find to a hit single is the jazz imbued “How Come You Never Go There.” Having gained critical praise and commercial success, she’s chosen to follow her own muse.