Our waiting headphones and laptops needn’t wait any longer. Feist’s fourth album, Metals, is here – a refreshing bouquet lighting up the shorter days of fall, vibrant and dazzling. Not that long ago, the world-famous Canadian songwriter Leslie Feist recorded Metals with her collaborators in a rustic space on the West coast during a rainy February, with some of the post-production taking place in Paris and London. Some of the songs, including “Comfort Me,” were already more than a year old at the time.
Pre-release, ListentoFeist.com offered us tantalizing video clips with snippets of audio from several cuts off the new album. These clips definitely add something to each of their respective tracks, in that the album really comes alive with this peek into the cozy space where the album was forged. Most of Metals is the typical Feist-y blend of acoustic gentility and sleek jazz sounds reminiscent of a bygone era. Lots of guitars, drums, the usual indie rock fare. There’s also a symphonic gathering of strings, piano, brass, and even some wind instruments. A xylophone makes short appearances on “Caught a Long Wind” and “The Circle Married the Line.” The tambourine on “Undiscovered First” is an excellent touch. The most impassioned moments are punctuated with a strong backing chorus, several women’s voices strong, with the occasional lower man’s voice chiming in. And with Metals, Feist’s trademark scratchy, wispy voice gives way to a more mature, fuller sound. I expect many fans will find this refreshing.
Let’s run through some of the album’s highlights. “The Bad in Each Other,” a careful choice for a leading track, brings to mind Flannery O’Connor’s famous story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” with the front-and-center line, “Good man and good woman/ Can’t find the good in each other.” The inexplicably delicious single, “How Come You Never Go There,” carries us right into “A Commotion,” which describes a grizzly, unspecified force that tears through the house and “rips you all apart.” Feist’s voice and the arrangement lend it a sound that’s a bit like Lykke Li’s “I’m Good, I’m Gone.” “The Circle Married the Line” follows. Though it’s largely nonsensical, or should I say mystical, the peppy and upbeat tune, with an upward, arpeggio-esque movement, actually works. “Anti-Pioneer” is one of the slow, drowsy jazz cuts, even kind of bluesy with the drums. The lyrics chart a seeming chronicle of psychotherapy, an analysis of analysis. “They’ll try to convince you of your mood… But it’s only therapy; that’s all they do.” Then there’s this especially enrapturing set, the quiet “Cicadas and Gulls” and the lively “Comfort Me,” which recalls many other celebrated artists. Here’s one way to think of it: If you could put the music of Leonard Cohen, Queen, Tori Amos, and Iron & Wine in a blender (Oh, and don’t forget Simon & Garfunkel’s “Benedictus”), this song would be the resulting deliciousness — yogurt and bananas optional. In the closing piece, “Get it Wrong, Get it Right,” Feist calls yet another artist to mind. Andrew Bird’s “Souverian” makes a very nice match for this gentle melody, another Feist-y lullaby, accented by drums and breezy ambient noise. To top it off, Feist has even treated us to a luscious bonus track, “Pine Moon.” Her voice is most haunting here, breaking into the strong, steady beat with bansheed bursts.
Feist clearly has a poetic disposition. The lyrics are simple, not at all overdone. Vague, open-ended passages allow for many interpretations, for new experiences each time one listens, which Feist admits, in an interview available from Australian Yahoo, is what she was going for.
The meaning of the title, Metals, becomes clearer when we hear Feist discuss it in the same interview. “Metal is such a changeable substance. It doesn’t exist at the surface of the earth. So it’s a crazy amount of effort and ingenuity and imagination to find it and turn it into something else.” Feist notes, over a sweet illustration of the California coast in the digital liner notes, that when she asked music writers what words came to mind when she said, “Metals,” no two journalists gave the same responses, further demonstrating the ripe creative terrain covered in the album.
While this is the most lovable album ever issued by Feist, it is not without a few bothersome aspects. These are mostly structural issues, moments when pieces seem out of place. For one, there is no reason why the men’s voices presumably shouting, “A commotion!” on “A Commotion” should instead make a sound that best resembles something like, “Brooklyn mush!” or “Burning bush!” There’s also the odd, clipped way in which Feist chirps in during the chorus of “The Circle Married the Line.” I’d place it somewhere between a hiccup and a grunt. When it appears, it’s unseemly. It’s hard to complain about something so trivial, though, since Feist’s voice does sound delightfully crisp on this whole album. On a non-trivial level, my main complaint is that despite Feist’s lovely rhapsodizing on the benefits of open-ended lyrics, I find myself wishing I understood much more of the point of the various songs and how they’re supposed to stitch together. We won’t even get into the similarities in the titles of “Caught a Long Wind” and Tori Amos’s oft-covered “Caught a Light Sneeze.”
In any case, Metals drips with good beats, subtle lyrical impressions, and the finest Feist vocals you’ve probably ever heard. It’s a swell album. Perfect, perhaps, for a party on the mellower side. 8/10