When I think of artists who have been the soundtrack to the last decade of my life—a pretty significant decade filled with marriage, dues-paying, success, death, and birth—Feist is one of the first who comes to mind. Both Let It Die and The Reminder latched onto me and wouldn't let go, seeing me through my share of highs and lows.
That’s not to say I found either album to be perfect. In fact, both are patchy efforts to my ears, each containing highs so high that I eventually forgive the lows. By now I’ve listened to both so many times that the songs that originally bothered me are now beloved like family (second cousins, maybe, rather than brothers or sisters, but family). When Feist's songs hit me—“Mushaboom,” “Let It Die,” “So Sorry,” “1234,” and so on—they hit me hard. They feel like perfection. They’re perfectly sweet, perfectly buoyant, perfectly regretful, perfectly yearning. Yet just as often her songs don’t nail my bull’s eye. Their softness nags at me, their sultriness irks me; they set off irony alarms inside of me that I’m never truly certain they intend to set off. For an artist I profess to love, Feist sure does make me wrestle with her music, and with myself. How someone whose specialty seems to be making comfortable music can make me feel so uncomfortable, is a conundrum. But here’s the thing: Feist’s albums are worth wrestling with.
But let's not dwell on past records. Metals, Feist’s newest, is her best. It’s one of those deceptively wonderful albums that doesn’t really announce itself on first listen, yet over time sinks its hooks into you. On first listen I felt like a lot of the songs bled into each other, aside from a few noticeable spikes like the climax of “Graveyard.” I couldn’t fully pay attention to the record and lost track of how long I’d been listening to it. I kept thinking “this must be the last song,” and then another song would come on and I’d think it again. I didn’t hear anything as immediate as “1234” or “I Feel It All” or “My Moon My Man.” That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just meant that Metals wasn't easy to latch onto.
Then I listened to it a few more times and developed a more measured response: Metals is Feist’s most cohesive album, consistently good from front to back. Another way of saying that, I thought, was that the lows were higher but the highs were lower. Fewer homeruns but fewer strikeouts, too.
Then I listened to it again, and again, and again. And now I feel fully immersed in Metals, in sync (I think) with what Feist is trying to accomplish with the record. One thing she’s not trying to do is repeat the lightning-in-a-bottle success of her The Reminder. (Could she, even if she tried?) Metals is a pure, beginning-to-end listening experience, its peaks and valleys drawing on each other for their impact. It’s not a casual collection of songs like Let It Die or a patchwork of different, sometimes conflicting moods as on The Reminder. Metals is moody without being dark, by turns beautifully intimate and passionately boisterous.
There’s a certain kind of song that Feist has always been good at writing: the simple, hushed numbers like “Gatekeeper” or “So Sorry.” That kind of song is here too, in the form of “How Come You Never Go There” or “Cicadas and Gulls.” But she’s found a new way to contrast those tracks; instead of the upbeat pop numbers of The Reminder or the soft-rockisms of Let It Die, she’s invited a troupe of backup singers to boost her aches and yearnings to new heights. “The Bad in Each Other,” “Graveyard,” “A Commotion,” “The Circle Married the Line,” “Bittersweet Melodies,” “Undiscovered First,” “Comfort Me”—all feature a phalanx of voices, a heavily emphasized rhythm section, and/or a buoying string section to amplify her songs without overpowering them. Over the course of a dozen tracks, Feist manages to color Metals with a variety of tones and emotions without ever deviating from the overarching mood of the record. This is something she’s never managed before. Metals is by far her most mature, most assured effort.
- Feist: Graveyard