Feist – Metals (2011)

1234 tell me that you love me more
Sleepless long nights/ that is what your youth was for

For most of us, this is how Feist suddenly appeared on the radar. All thanks to the catchy little number played in the background of a commercial for a car or phone or something. I forgot about that car/phone (it was an iPod) years ago, but I certainly haven’t forgotten about Feist. Sure she had a “chick music” label slapped on her from the beginning, but she always had an artistic quality to her music that kept me coming back. With her first release in four years out on Tuesday (Metals), I was eager to hear the new material. I will say one thing, though; if you adored “1234,” then you probably won’t enjoy this album as much as her earlier stuff.

That’s not to say that “1234” isn’t a good song or that Metals isn’t a good album, but I can’t find any common thread between them other Feist. It’s hard to argue that “1234” is anything other than a pop song. A rather artsy and pretty good pop song, but still a pop song (it was performed live on Sesame Street– how many bands can you picture doing that?). Everything on Metals seems just a little bit slower, a little bit darker and a little bit artsier. You won’t be hearing any of these songs on a commercial for an iPod or for Verizon Wireless (like “My Moon My Man”), but the overall quality on this effort has definitely improved.

You should get the idea that this is going to be a bit darker right from the opening song, aptly titled, “The Bad in Each Other.” I really couldn’t think of a more perfect way to start this type of album. The distant drums and Gaelic-inspired guitar create a bit of unrest and propel us towards something we sinister. She certainly shows a bit more creativity with her lyrics, offering up human commentary with lines like, “A good man and a good woman bring out the worst in each other.” I don’t find it to be terribly deep or life changing, but I did find it to be very creative. This stays pretty constant throughout the album with songs like “Graveyard,” where she is wandering through a cemetery and moaning “bring ’em all back to life,” and “Anti-Pioneer,” a harmonizing slow guitar/piano/strings conglomerate with poetic lines like, “when the flag changes colors/ the language knows.” Again, I wouldn’t say that it’s sheer genius, but very imaginative.

As I alluded to above, I also found the effort to be a more complete and symphonic sound. There just seems to be a lot more substance and dare I say a lot more music here than I have heard before. Virtually every track is souped up with beautiful piano, guitar, woodwind sections, and even hints of faint but hard electric guitars. “The Circle Married the Line” is probably the best example of this as it sounds like she is using an entire orchestra. There are bells, clarinets, strings, massive baritone drums, violins, and even a harp. It seems like every track makes use of that sort of completeness. With her voice echoing through every track and her displaying some impressive vocals (especially on “Caught in a Long Wind”), the sound is consistently enjoyable.

I don’t want to give you the impression that it’s all doom and gloom. “Cicadas and Gulls” sounds like any other reflective acoustic guitar folk song and “A Commotion” is a very fast-paced harmonious piece. The album does not offer a whole lot in terms of variation. There were times that the tracks started to blend together for me, but I can’t say I blame her. She finds a very specific sound that she likes here and totally runs with it. Perhaps it can be a bit of a downer at times, but I think it will definitely evoke something in you, certainly more than a song about numbers anyway.

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