FEIST

 

Feist’s first album in six years reflects on secrets and shame, loneliness and tenderness, care and the lack thereof. The Canadian singer/songwriter's fourth full-length, Pleasure builds off the warm naturalism of the Polaris Prize-winning Metals and emerges as her most formally defiant work so far. And while each track marks a dramatic departure from the breezy pop of Feist's 2008 breakthrough “1234” (a top 10 single that earned Feist four Grammy Award nominations), the album finds the 11-time Juno Award winner again showing the extraordinary depth of her artistry.

With its constant movement from austere stillness to frenzied intensity, Pleasure is painfully intimate yet impossibly vast. Recorded over the course of a year—in Paris, California’s Stinson Beach, Upstate New York, and Toronto—Pleasure was co-produced by Feist with longtime collaborators Renaud Letang (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lianne La Havas) and Mocky (a composer/electronic-soul artist who’s also worked with Peter Gabriel). In addition to reaffirming Feist as a cagily inventive guitar player, the album threads her often haunting vocals into a pristinely arranged but viscerally charged strain of folk-rock.

From its very first seconds, Pleasure proves resistant to any imposed expectation. Though it begins with stark guitar and understated vocal work, the album-opening title track soon unfolds to encompass so many moods and textures, its shifts in tone both startling and hypnotic. Those tonal schisms endure throughout Pleasure, with Feist continually building moments of pain and wonder so extreme that the contrast feels thrillingly brutal. The result is an album that exists in its own time and space, and in the end demands a quiet surrender from the listener.

With the guitar-driven rhythm and furious handclaps of “Pleasure” serving as the song’s sole percussion, the album remains mostly drumless for the next several tracks. For “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You,” Feist matches her lilting folk with a delicate but fierce meditation on longing (“I felt some certainty that you must have died/Because how could I live if you’re still alive?”). That longing gives way to a stunned melancholy on the sleepy and shimmering “Lost Dreams,” until a single whispered lyric (“Every night you go to sleep, a chance to have another dream”) allows a flash of hope on the fadeout. But for Pleasure’s majestic centerpiece “Any Party,” Feist matches her meticulously detailed storytelling with a glorious, grandiose arrangement of heavy guitar and hard-hitting drums. With its swaying rhythm and campfire harmonies, the unflinchingly romantic track turns what first feels like a throwaway confession (“You know I’d leave any party for you”) into a powerfully exultant declaration of love.

Often imbued with an unruly spirit revealing her punk-rock roots, Pleasure sees Feist daringly and joyfully playing with genre. Along with slipping into the folk reverie of “Baby Be Simple,” the hazy blues of “I’m Not Running Away,” and the balm-like soul of “Young Up,” the album gracefully drifts from the choir-like vocals of “A Man Is Not His Song” to the beautifully spooky poetry of “The Wind” (“And the trees for their 100 years/Lean north like calligraphy/And I’m shaped by my storming/Like they’re shaped by their storming”). But with “Century,” Pleasure reaches a climax that transcends classification. Channeling a dark-night-of-the-soul torment that feels both utterly private and universal in scope, the epic track achieves a theatrical grandeur that peaks with some gut-punching spoken word from Jarvis Cocker.

On Pleasure, Feist shows a self-possession honed through decades of purposeful wandering in her musical life. Originally from Nova Scotia, the artist born Leslie Feist got her start singing in a youth choir and joined in a Calgary-based punk band called Placebo at age 15. After a stint as the rhythm guitarist for Canadian indie-rock outfit By Divine Right, Feist set out on a musical path that included singing on Peaches’ full-length debut and on Broken Social Scene’s Juno Award-winning 2002 album You Forgot It in People, as well as touring with both acts.

In 2004 Feist made her U.S. debut with Let It Die, which featured the hit single “Mushaboom,” won the Juno Award for Best Alternative Rock Album, and garnered major critical acclaim (“Her hushed croon evokes the jazz tingle of Peggy Lee and her melodicism hearkens back to Tin Pan Alley,” wrote Rolling Stone, “but Feist proves she’s a modern gal with a sparse yet varied sound that draws from chamber pop, chill-out, postmodern folk, Burt Bacharach and beyond”). Her 2007 follow-up The Reminder debuted in the top 20 in the U.S. and was hailed by the Village Voice as a “great batch of simple, precisely arranged love songs—expertly produced, delectably sung,” with “1234” boosting the album’s sales to more than a million units internationally. Also including lead single “My Moon My Man,” The Reminder won Feist the 2007 Shortlist Music Prize (making her only the second woman—after Chan Marshall—to ever win the award).

After a several-year hiatus—during which she co-created Look at What the Light Did Now, a documentary about the making of The Reminder and her subsequent tour—Feist returned with Metals in 2011. Named Album of the Year by the New York Times, Metals was praised as “a startling set of songs” by the BBC. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times remarked that Metals “taps into vast pockets of seemingly undiscovered space within the four-minute pop song.”

To date, Feist’s music has sold over 3 million units worldwide and amassed more than 500 million streams. She’s also appeared on Saturday Night Live and sold out the Hollywood Bowl, and boasts the second-most-watched video in Sesame Street history.