Review Summary: Wear walking shoes.
Leslie Feist's response to her brief stint as world dominator is a predictably "uncommercial" affair, forgoing the buoyancy of the excellent (if overpraised) The Reminder
for a more dirt-inflected sound. Which might sound like an overly facile grab at authenticity in somebody else's hands, but Metals
affects with - get this - its sentiency. Yes, an album that is more consciously intimate than its predecessor also feels more comprehensively alive
. Chalk it up to Feist's vocal presence, which is more nuanced and palpably human here than it's ever been. But let's also not ignore the skillful production at the hands of frequent collaborators Chilly Gonzalez and Mocky, which effectively calls to mind great dusty vistas, old tree trunks, and, oh sure, monochromatic landscapes like the one running through that gorgeous album cover.
Thanks to this deft touch, these twelve songs sound uniformly fantastic; they also sound fairly uniform. But unlike many other sonically one-note records, of which there are many in the world of guitar-driven indie pop, Metals
feels absolutely committed to both its aesthetic and its resolutely still emotional center. Throughout, Leslie Feist sounds weary and even straight-up sad, her voice's inescapable warmth serving less as a source of radiance than a last glimmer of hope. "Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, bring 'em all back to life," she sings on "Graveyard" while lost in a chorus of her own detachment, as if desperately calling for that spark to return in some effusive form. But Feist isn't terribly interested in writing hopeful songs anymore, preferring to dwell in newly dour lands populated by deep piano accents, mournful string lines, unadorned acoustic guitar strums, and earthbound drums. And this musical garb fits Feist to a T - certainly better than it did for Lykke Li on the similarly-minded Wounded Rhymes
- because it feels, for all its difference from the cuter stylings of Feist's previous work, like an organic and inevitable artistic progression.
So if Metals
is just a bit too drab to really represent Feist at her peak - an artist whom I suspect we haven't yet heard - it's an exciting development. "A Commotion" is driven by persistent, driving chords played by solo strings and piano, while a group of men is heard shouting the titular phrase four times before Feist bursts into one of the best choruses she's ever put to record - "If it rips you all apart / the grudge has still got your heart" is one of the loveliest couplets of the year. But the song is most urgent and tactile in its final minute, when the instrumentation drops out, leaving Feist to sing whilst surrounded by her own wordless utterances. It's a jaw-on-the-floor moment on an album more given to subtler turns of phrases; "Undiscovered First" cuts loose in a similar manner, but it's less convincing, the build-up leading to the song's climax ultimately feeling unnecessary. I'm fine with sleepier cuts like the beautiful "Anti-Pioneer", which mines great emotional pull out of the album's characteristically sparse setup. When Feist vocalizes in gorgeous harmony against herself, her unspoken pain feels real. When the album responds in turn, its violins sliding downwards slowly and deliberately, it feels genuinely aching. Such revelatory experiences are only fleeting, yet they exist. And so, Metals
, in its muted, gray imperfection, feels vital - even when it isn't.