Album Review ::: Feist ‘Pleasure’

After reading and contemplating a recent Feist feature in The Guardian I felt vexed enough to make the new Feist album, ‘Pleasure’, our next review (rant) here on TSOFD. Hold on tight.

The aforementioned piece in The Guardian begins with a description of Feist as a ‘Canadian singer who defined twee mid-noughties indie with 1234’. The article then goes on to make not one mention of Feist’s brilliant 2011 album ‘Metals’ but, strangely enough, does discuss how the song ‘1234’ is the soundtrack for an iPod advert which it also links to. Sheesh. Product placement much? And there I was still reeling from The Guardian ‘article’ about how to make a Spotify playlist for your family! Let’s just ignore the negligible amount Spotify pays artist in royalties shall we? Meanwhile the legal arm of the music industry (or is it a cartel?) continues to go after those sharing music online whilst, big companies, as always, can continue, unhindered, exploiting artists and consumers alike. Sorry. Got sidetracked. Back to Feist. First of all, is it just me or is the word ‘twee’ a really demeaning way to describe an artist? Secondly, can we really take seriously a music section of a national newspaper that publishes a piece about Feist but fails even to mention in passing her previous album Metals? Metals debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200, selling around 38,000 copies, Feist’s best ever sales week, and was her first entry into the top 10. Andrew Leahey of AllMusic in fact asserted, in relation to Metals, ‘Feist’s days as a provider of hip, trendy TV jingles may be over’. Jeez Andrew – do ya think?

Now, you might wish to argue if Feist didn’t want to be rendered synonymous with Apple branding for the rest of her recording career then she shouldn’t have allowed one of her songs to be used on an Apple advert. That’s a valid point but I’d counter a) without knowing the ins and outs of Feist’s publishing deal, where music is licensed can often be out of an artist’s hands and b) even if Feist LOVES Apple and was buzzing to have her song used that’s beside the point. In a world where artists increasingly have to rely on alternative revenue streams because people aren’t buying as much music as they used to, songwriters will simply have to take any opportunity to make money that comes their way, hopefully within reason, and that doesn’t in any way excuse a music critic for presenting only a superficial appraisal of an artist’s output, without even mentioning once, arguably, the artist’s standout work to date. Especially given there are many writers out there who would bloody LOVE the opportunity to write for a national publication and would sure as hell do the necessary research. Have we really reached the point where a national publication will mention an iPod advert over a work of art? In the ‘arts’ section?!!! COME ON!!!

So before I move on to Pleasure (much to your relief I bet haha) just thought it’s also worth mentioning, among other accolades, Metals was named best album of 2011 by The New York Times and also won the Polaris Music Prize making Feist the first female artist to win the award. That’s if Wikipedia is to be believed anyway. Yep. I admit it. That’s all the research I did. I don’t get paid for this. Next time you’re reading a piece in The Guardian, or an article sourced from any other supposedly left-leaning media outlet, decrying how underrepresented females are in the music industry, take a step back and consider the role the music media plays in this situation as well. When writers would apparently prefer to label a female artist ‘twee’ and mention ad placements rather than artistic achievements then it doesn’t exactly help.

Anyway, my one line review of Pleasure: It’s not as good as Metals is it? HA! Only joking. Whilst after a fair few listens I will honestly state I don’t like it as much as Metals, that is not to say that this isn’t still a damn fine album. It is probably unfair to directly compare the two LPs really as Pleasure is a very different beast and both releases stand alone. Sure there’s still a slow, pondering melancholy permeating proceedings but whilst Metals had the aura about it of a very well produced and arranged record in a more traditional sense, which made it come across as something of a heavyweight statement also in terms of the songwriting and musicianship, Pleasure immediately forms a stark contrast. It’s more difficult to get hold of. It’s often hissy and off-kilter. The frequency range is more limited and abrasive. It’s more unsettling. Take the opening title track. It centers around the vocal, some gnarly guitar and a kick drum and that’s largely it until the outro which pans out into hand-claps and vocal overlays.

So is this an artist retreating into more experimental territory following the big breakthrough? It would appear so. I’m not hearing any twee advertising jingles here. ‘I Wish I Didn’t Miss You’ has an underwater quality to it which anyone who has felt themselves drowning in the aftermath of lost love might be able to pick up on. For those interested in lofi music you’d do well to find a better example than ‘Lost Dreams’ when it comes to showcasing just how inventive and beguiling an arrangement can be with that type of palette. This descends nicely into the ramshackle abandon of ‘Any Party’ which has some notable loud/quiet dynamics and something of a Neil Young quality about it, be it in a more a sonically shape-shifting way, whilst the additional male vocals in the outro reminds this writer a little bit of the PJ Harvey ‘Let England Shake’ record before it mutates into audio of an actual or pretend party the protagonist, in line with the lyrics, is presumably proposing leaving. Clever.

A curious moment occurs on ‘Century’ when none other than Jarvis Cocker makes an appearance. Whilst it is overall a great track and Cocker’s inclusion probably hasn’t hurt in terms of the song getting BBC 6 Music radio play, and as much as I think Cocker is the mutt’s nuts, I find it a little bit of a jarring combo and haven’t made my mind up about it yet. Perhaps the fact it is jarring though fits this record, which seems all about challenging the listener with sudden twists and turns, and therein lies the contrast with the previous album Metals which at times feels a very soothing listen. If soothing is what you’re seeking ‘Baby Be Simple’ is perhaps a song worth honing in on and comes as something of a relief, despite an undercurrent of unease, when it hits home before the penultimate track ‘I’m Not Running Away’. By this stage it almost feels like Feist is toying with the listener. We do here have not too dissimilar sonic territory to that explored in Metals but it’s like the canvas is repeatedly being torn by a piercing lead guitar refrain. Final track, ‘Young Up’ revolves around a brooding organ line and almost ends on a note of reconciliation. Almost.

At times this record can be a challenging listen but it’s a rewarding one. If you’re expecting Metals part two though you might be disappointed. Also, did I mention it’s not at all twee? Looking forward to seeing what adverts these tracks are used on as, you know, that’s the most important thing…

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