Across her nearly two-decade run, there’s always been the prevailing sense that Leslie Feist makes music by and large for her own betterment.
Pep talks, mantras, admissions and regrets dot the margins of Feist’s winding path like snake holes in the grass, with each memo to self etching a further entry in her very public diary. Even while briefly gracing the dizzying heights of pop stardom, iPod Nano commercials and all, Feist never passed up the opportunity to lay herself bare, bravely ripping off band aids concealing the unformed scabs of past relationships and allowing the invading air to slowly but surely turn hurt into healing.
On ‘Pleasure’, the Canadian songstress continues to explore the depths of her ennui without ever permitting herself to succumb to despair. Around every corner, there’s something hopeful to latch on to, and considering the tenderness and sincerity that make ‘The Reminder’ one of the most memorable records of the 2000s, it’s baffling to think that she has outdone herself here, producing what is her most intimate work yet.
Disarrayed and delicately imperfect, ‘Pleasure’ sees Feist forego the sterility of hyper-clean production and instead opt for a sound that’s steeped in dissonance. Rarely have her songs been as unpredictably structured as they are here, with fine details revealing themselves with adequate patience and attention.
This primate energy is instantly striking on the barren yet deceptively intricate title track, eventually carrying over into the inviting rainy day warmth of ‘I Wish I Didn’t Miss You’, with the latter rivalled in melancholy only by the hypnotising and gorgeous climax of ‘Lost Dreams’. An audible hiss populates much of the record, which with a little imagination, gives way to the illusion of temporarily inhabiting the same dimly-lit room as Feist herself.
For all its rawness, ‘Pleasure’ also comes off as remarkably deliberate at times: ‘Any Party’ is adorned with the sounds of slamming screen doors and barking dogs, distant trains, indistinct conversations, and even a passing car blasting the title-track, all combining to create a warm, milky roux of urban bliss. Then there’s the snippet of Mastodon’s ‘High Road’ that’s strangely tacked onto the end of ‘A Man Is Not His Song’, not to mention the expanses of empty space on ‘Get Not High, Get Not Low’ that interrupt loose, muffled drumming in what is an ode to finding comfort and balance in emotional neutrality.
Feist’s vocals are consistently in top form, flushed and dazzling on ‘The Wind’ as well as the stripped-down and soft-spoken triumph of ‘Baby Be Simple, while a sinister synth does all the talking on ‘Century’ in the wake of Jarvis Cocker’s seconds-hours-days scaling of an endlessly grim night. Following the bluesy grit of ‘I’m Not Running Away’, ‘Pleasure’ then concludes with the organ-led affirmation of ‘Young Up’, which arrives frontloaded with a formidable existential dagger: “When they cart me away, will they say that I died already years ago?”
Perhaps it really is better to burn out than to fade away, but judging by the evidence at hand, Feist won’t have to worry about becoming irrelevant any time soon. The long-awaited follow-up to 2011’s ‘Metals’ is a stunning and progressive recalibration, bearing all the marks of someone who, older and wiser, has painstakingly learned how to take the curveballs in stride, reframing them as uncontrollable consequences of being alive, rather than the self-inflicted body blows they may have posed in the past. Emerging from the murk and into the new-found quiet of middle age, Feist’s ‘Pleasure’ is a document of stark beauty that’s entirely and unequivocally her own.
Words: Noveen Bajpai
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