When 2007′s The Reminder unexpectedly catapulted indie pop singer Leslie Feist from acclaim in her native Canada to international success on the back of two major TV commercials, the record industry suddenly got wise to a major untapped market for female singers who aimed a little higher than the prevailing Britney/Barbie model. So in came Adele and Duffy and Florence Welch from England, along with Sara Bareilles and Colbie Caillat from America, to capture an audience eager for something catchy yet not aimed primarily at kids. Having broadened and brightened the options for female musicians more or less accidentally, Feist faced a dilemma with her follow-up: How does she address a mainstream market she didn’t set out to attract?
There’s no obvious follow-up to her iPod-promoted hit “1234.” Nor is there an abrupt stylistic shift to compete with the likes of Lady Gaga. Instead, Metals both builds on The Reminder and strips it down. It acknowledges her fame with a sound that’s at times bigger and more epic that its predecessor, yet affirms her mortality with human-sized intimacies and conflicts. Written last fall and then recorded the following winter on the cliffs of Big Sur with longtime collaborators Chilly Gonzales and Mocky, with Bjork’s engineer Valgeir Sigurdsson, Feist’s fourth album contrasts interior heat and chilly winds, acoustic instrumentation and technological know-how, delicate soul-baring and hefty sing-along choruses. It’s a rigorously artistic record by a master of the light, seemingly-effortless touch.
Its songs showcase a voice that flows between the naturalism of folk and the musicality of jazz with equally fluid, vivid arrangements. Instead of following the radio-aimed trend of “brickwalling” sound to make as dense and loud as possible, Metals is a record of extreme dynamics: The shouting male choir of “A Commotion” make sure the song lives up to its title, while the winding “Anti Pioneer” mutes its strings to a murmur. Instead of surefire hooks, there is mystery. For every unambiguous line like “When you comfort me it doesn’t bring me comfort actually,” there are several others that suggest more than they reveal. That’s Feist.