Metals - Feist - LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY! #33

Sometimes familiarity with an artist’s music and the weight of expectation can prevent our acceptance of them if they do something drastically different. A particularly fine example is that of The Rolling Stones’ perennial classic Exile on Main St. A rip-roaring stomp through raw delta blues, gospel and good old-fashioned rock-n-roll, the critics just didn’t go with it. Sure, it was good, but they didn’t see the big deal. “Where are the Stones of yesteryear?” bemoaned Playboy. Lenny Kaye of Rolling Stone said it was “slightly missing the mark.” Now, 40 years later, nobody’s saying that. To quote Keith Richards himself: “…It was also pretty much universally panned. But within a few years the people who had written the reviews saying it was a piece of crap were extolling it as the best frigging album in the world.” I find myself staring as an outsider on a similar predicament as I write today. Having never heard of Feist or heard any of her music, I came to listening to her 2011 album Metals with no preconceptions and I was blown away. Yet the professional reviews have been fair; good at best, but the album didn’t seem to have the same impact on any of them as it did on me. Why? I asked myself. Well it turns out that expectation, our old nemesis, had struck again.

I made it my business to go on YouTube and listen to a few of Feist’s earlier singles and I got my answer. Her previous album The Reminder had some fantastically quirky pop singles, including 1234 with its incredible music video [YouTube]. So I guess people were expecting her to deliver something along the same lines; uplifting pop that packed a punch. That’s unfortunately where people were wrong. Metals is a very internalized, contemplative album with few pretensions of having chart hits. But did that bother me, who’d never heard of Feist before or her music? Course not. And why? Because it’s brilliant: pure, intrinsically, not dependent on any of her previous achievements – brilliant.

A far cry from the overt pop of her immediately preceding singles, Metals comes across as more of an impressionistic, introspective piece of art. Her lyrics often speak of miscommunication, lost souls adrift in life’s great ocean, searching for answers. “When a good man and a good woman can't find the good in each other/Then a good man and a good woman will bring out the worst in the other” she sings in the opener The Bad in Each Other. Her lyrics often owe more to 19th Century poets than pop princesses, with Caught a Long Wind using very naturalistic imagery, paralleling her journey through life with a bird’s flight. What’s the deal? Is it supposed to be cool? Has Feist softened as she’s got older? I wonder did the critics think that. I, for one, find her naturalistic, equivocal lyrics a perfect partner to her beautiful voice, gliding along as a lone bird gliding the wind. I stress that it’s been a long time since I have heard a voice so beautiful, and despite the intrinsic nature of the music she isn’t afraid to let herself go. Her voice, in fact, is the most powerful feature of the record, always rising above the music, commanding authority without demanding it, sensitively reaching into the farthest corners of the musical space, slipping in and out. And the music itself is captivating in its demure aura. Metals offers us an acoustic collage of guitars, pianos, strings and xylophones. At times the musicians appear to be allowed to improvise within their delicate confines, creating a rich tapestry of ghostly folksy sounds. Nowhere is this better exemplified than parts of Caught a Long Wind. Led by a distant, soft piano and Feist’s restless voice, her musical ensemble creates a shimmering backdrop of delicate music. It’s far from a free improvisation session though, the music is mainly there to compliment Feist’s voice, but the musicians aren’t afraid to use silence generously either. Whether it’s laying off altogether on the voice/guitar solo track Cicadas and Gulls or arriving half way through the song to emphasize the shifting mood of the song as in Comfort Me, the backing musicians never try to steal the spotlight. But such a marrying of vocal and music is a remarkably refreshing thing to hear, each playing to the others’ strengths, a truly brilliant collaboration.

The album’s crowning moments? I’d hate not to single out a few, even though every song demands serious attention. The aforementioned Caught a Long Wind is perhaps the most haunting, with its iridescent opening feeling like catching a glimpse of a ghostly figure in a garden wet with early morning dew. The tender Cicadas and Gulls has some resplendent harmonies and a heartbreaking melody, while Anti-Pioneer is perhaps the most sparse, minimalist electric blues you’ll ever hear. Really though, these are merely highlights. EVERY song is a separate statement, every song demands our attention, and maybe this is part of why this album’s reception has been so puzzlingly muted. There aren’t any typical singles, (How Come You Never Go There was released a single, but it fits so perfectly with the rest of the album you forget that) nothing jumps out at you; you have to be patient and experience the lot. But I can assure you that every song rewards your diligence generously. Like Steve, I believe I discovered my personal favourite album of 2011 just those few weeks too late, but I’m glad I found it eventually; it was worth the wait. My advice to you: go out and get it and don’t let anything hold you back, not even a critic.

Words - Adam

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