Leslie Feist has now well and truly transcended the Toronto music scene from which she first emerged, albeit at least in part through the use of her music in advertisements. Whilst many loved and admired her previous album The Reminder, in some quarters it was quite unfairly dismissed as coffee table music. For sure, Feist’s songs are subtle and refined – but that wonderful album also stored a reservoir of tenderness, emotion and empathy. She is certainly not Dido. Metals, finally arriving a long four years after The Reminder, represents a new career landmark in that it is her first release to consist entirely of self-penned material.
It starts courageously with The Bad In Each Other, the closest Feist has yet come to creating something imposing and forceful. It’s a terrific song, with a bold, incisive chorus and a majestic horn arrangement. Indeed, strings and horns are a prominent textural and harmonic feature on Metals, helping to create a coherent sound, even if nothing else is quite as dramatic as the album opener.
Metals certainly feels like Feist’s most serious album to date. Even though it reunites Feist with her regular collaborators Mocky and Gonzales, there is still a definite sense of progression here. There is nothing fluffy and lightweight like 1234 or I Feel It All to lighten the mood or provide some variation. It is, however, an album that reveals its many strengths on repeated listens. Arranged with strumming guitars, A Commotion would have been a bog standard indie romp, but with Cello playing the role of the rhythm section, it sounds urgent, perhaps even angry. Elswhere, Feist’s clever vocal arrangements, and a very thoughtful sound mix make for an album that repays close attention.
There is certainly plenty of the refined, tasteful Feist here too. Graveyard vaguely resembles Tori Amos’ Cornflake Girl, albeit in a much less theatrical style. Caught A Long Wind is built on a sequence of beautiful, sustained, Burt Bacharach-esque piano chords. The pace for the most part is slow and resigned, and the general atmosphere is melancholic, or at least contemplative. For some, dusty, delicate songs such as Anti-Pioneer may simply be too restrained – yet there is a haunting quality beneath the surface even here and the strings serve to provide some unexpected tension.
Whilst there are no songs here as immediately moving as The Park or Intuition (the acoustic lament of Cicadas And Gulls, undoubtedly displaying the influence of Iron & Wine, perhaps comes closest), Metals is an album with its own distinctive qualities. Most noticeable is a greater dynamic range, which creates some moments of genuine drama. There’s the explosion of the chorus on Undiscovered First – all grand chords and irresistible handclaps, later accompanied by a sweeping, cinematic horn arrangement.
Whilst her slightly affected voice often frustratingly obscures the lyrics, there is still something undeniably graceful about Feist’s fragile but flighty delivery. It manages to make even her most overwhelming songs seem fleet-footed and effortless (particularly the wonderful The Circle Married The Line). Metals is not a static creation that reveals all its cards at once. It is a work that will continue to surprise and delight over time. It is all about the small details.