Saturday, November 26, 2011

Feist- Metals

It's rare to see an artist draw close to commercial success and mass acceptance after years of relative obscurity and proceed to make the best, most chance-taking album of their career. For all intents and purposes, however, that's precisely what Metals represents. After being known as “the chick who sings in Broken Social Scene” and “the chick who did that 1-2-3-4 song”, Feist has at last arrived, at least in my book, with this new record.

This isn't to say that The Reminder wasn't a work of finesse and ambition, or that reviews for Metals have been overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, The Reminder was one of those indie albums that became massively popular yet backed up its accessible songwriting with genuine artistry. Metals, by contrast, has had no big single to sell it to the public and it sits at a respectable but not overwhelming 80 on Metacritic. All of that said, I think this album's cache will only improve with time. It feels carefully constructed and meticulously arranged such that there's no “ah ha!” song or moment. Love, if it comes at all, comes gradually.

The best way I can think to explain my reaction to this album is to say that Metals is a record which initially promises the moon and eventually delivers it though it still doesn't completely satisfy. Every time I listen to it now, I can think of no obvious flaws or problems. I can, as objectively as is possible in this situation, say that Metals is the best album Feist could have made. So why haven't I completely fallen for it?

Feist, especially on Metals, reminds me of a less distant Tori Amos or a less depressed Cat Power, though the best basis for comparison is PJ Harvey's Is This Desire?, a similarly expansive and experimental record. It's the kind of album where the artist considers it their most personal work and greatest achievement yet it usually ranks low on critic and fan lists. Metals may or may not suffer a similar fate as Is This Desire?, becoming the oblique black sheep of Feist's discography, but I do know I share a similar attitude to both records insofar as I enjoy them but they never became...essential to me. Essential for the artists to make, certainly, but not vital works that I return to again and again as the years go by. Whether or not the artists would agree, to me albums like Is This Desire? and Metals feel insular and complete onto themselves. A listener is not needed, to put it another way.

While Is This Desire? went for non-traditional song structures and electronic flourishes, Metals goes for more of an ambitious orchestral/baroque singer/songwriter sound. There may be some simple delights, such as the understated 'Bittersweet Melodies' and 'Cicadas & Gulls', which is so stripped down compared to the rest of the record it seems like a demo. Yet the main story of Metals is that of reach and ambition. Layered vocal arrangements are everywhere, with 'The Circle Married The Line' sounding downright choral, and the general atmosphere of this album makes me imagine it was recorded in an abandoned cathedral in remotest England on a rare sunny day.

Metals may not end up being her greatest critical or commercial success, but it is undeniably the record where she announces, even if she may have a hit single here or there, she is still an artist first and foremost. Feist has now joined the rank of similar left-of-commercial singer/songwriter types from the past. Metals is not her version of, say, Rain Dogs or Murder Ballads, but it does demonstrate that she is still growing and evolving.
4 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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