MONM 2011 Day 7: Feist’s Metals

Feist – Metals (Arts & Crafts, 2011)

For someone who’s been knocked in some circles as the new face of easy listening, Feist has always had plenty of modes of locomotion. She could slink, bounce, swing, or float whenever she saw fit, throwing in a bit of disco strut to balance out the sweetheart pop and coffeehouse heartbreak. It just happened that all of those modes came across sweet enough that they didn’t sound out of place selling lattes (or iPods, as it were).

Ironically, Metals is being pushed as Feist’s embrace of experimentation largely because she’s cut that assortment of steps down to two – the sway and the stomp. Or, on quite a few of the tracks, the sway and then the stomp. That means you get a lot of the hallmarks of serious music, and Metals has its share of sweeping crescendos (see “Undiscovered First”), but that commitment to catharsis doesn’t make Metals any more or less experimental than her last three albums.

It has its eccentricities, sure (the shouts on “A Commotion” would’ve been a bit of a shock nestled between “Mushaboom” and “Leisure Suite”), but Feist has just traded one kind of playfulness for another. If Let it Die was about seeing how many genres you could re-create with a few slight shifts in cadence and bare-bones instrumentation, and The Reminder was taking full advantage of broader arrangements, Metals is all about the tension between the timbre and the melody.

Not to sound like I’m giving a backhanded compliment, but Metals is one of those albums that’s almost better if you can’t quite hear it. The swells have their place, but the album is at its most compelling when Feist forces you to lean in, with her voice just tracing the outline of an emotion and leaving you to fill in the rest. And on that level, it’s the same as her first three discs – they’re all subtle to the point that they might sound dull if you don’t give them a fair shake (they aren’t). But that subtlety is probably her best feature. It’s why her albums actually improve on repeated listens. I’m on no. 5 so far today, and Metals has done nothing but grow on me.

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