Feist disappeared for quite awhile, and who could blame her? The Metals (2011) album cycle was particularly lengthy, prolonged by a substantial international tour and a Polaris Prize win the following year. The album absolutely deserved its victory lap, but it was a long time to be front and centre.
I’m glad Feist disappeared for awhile. Unlike so many artists today, I think she intuitively understands the importance of disappearing for awhile. It’s important for two reasons. First, it is possible for people to get tired of you. The longer your absence, the more genuine anticipation precedes your next release. Second, it allows for the down time, for the unplugging, that is needed to reflect and create. Art arises not only from political circumstances but also from one’s own inner life, and that means life needs seasons other than those afforded by the grinding tour-record-tour cycle.
Unlike the stomping feet and arresting gang vocals on Metals, Feist’s songs on this album often feel like they bubble up and take a minute or two to hit their stride. There’s a patient, sunbeam quality to this record, sort of like Wilco’s The Whole Love. Although Feist titled it Pleasure, she’s calling to mind not a crazy party kind of pleasure, but something warm, sustained, comfortable, and inquisitive.
There’s also a sparseness to the instrumentation that showcases surprisingly versatile songwriting style throughout. Guitars stab, keyboards swell, but underneath are Feist’s one-of-a-kind vocals and a humble acoustic guitar, anchoring everything.
I was fortunate enough to see Feist perform this album front to back just six or seven weeks after its release. It was a sweltering afternoon at Eaux Claires Music Festival, and not everyone around me was into it right away. But Feist has a tremendous ability to captivate an audience, and soon won everyone over with her amazing voice and clever banter. The simple two-piece band backing her up was scrappy and tight, and her guitar work was fearless (she’s a very underrated lead guitarist).
While a second oblique, experimental album might make some listeners long all the more for a return to the pop version of Feist, I think her last two albums are far more interesting and rewarding.
Pleasure is proof that she still has new highways to travel down, and new songwriting approaches to explore. “When they cart me away, will they say that I died already years ago?” she sings on “Young Up,” the album’s final track. The answer to that is clearer than ever: not a chance.