There’s a moment on the new Feist album, Pleasure, that calls back to her breakthrough album The Reminder. As the track “Any Party” winds down, the sounds of someone (let’s assume it’s Ms. Leslie Feist) leaving the party rise to the forefront as the music fades away. A door closes, footsteps clack, crickets chirp, a car drives by playing the opening track to the album; a neat little wink. On 2007’s The Reminder, the track “My Moon My Man” ends in the same fashion.
That’s where the similarities between those two albums end. Pleasure, Feist’s first album since 2011’s Metals, shares more in common with that release than her first two; 2004’s Let It Die and The Reminder, alternated between catchy pop and subdued tunes. With Metals, and now Pleasure (out April 28), the sprightly pop sounds of earlier favorites like “Mushaboom” and “1 2 3 4” are nowhere in sight.
The good news is that Pleasure has more highs than her last album, but still, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, and listeners who might be hoping for a catchy tune to hum along to may be disappointed.
Metals introduced a more stripped-down sound for Feist, and the trend continues here as songs like “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You” and “Get Not High, Get Not Low” take the sound from stripped-down to sparse. Feist’s acoustic guitar and hushed vocals have an almost-eerie reverb, sounding like the ghost of early American recordings. It’s as if the album was recorded in a lonely, echo-filled barn in the middle of nowhere.
The first welcome burst of energy comes halfway through with “Any Party,” including the addition of a chorus of backing singers, sounding like fellow party guests. ”You know I’d leave any party for you,” Feist sings, and then she does, only return to her echoey barn to sing “A Man Is Not His Song.” The track also features the backing choir, which begs the question: Did they follow her from the party to the barn? A startling bit of a Mastadon track closes the song. Is it playing in her car as she goes to the next location? Did Mastadon show up in the barn? Who knows?
Jarvis Cocker is the other guest to appear on the album, on “Century.” The song is a nesting doll of romantic fate in driving rhythm. Sings Feist: “Someone who will lead you to someone/ Who will lead you to someone/ Who will lead you to someone/ Who will lead you to the one at the end of the century.” Cocker, with his droll British delivery, tells us just how long a century is, and how long it feels–“as long as a dark night of the soul.” Cocker’s gloomy message aside, it’s one of the most upbeat, and best, songs.
When new sounds come in to break up the rustic sparseness, they are welcome, but that gentle melancholy is never far behind. “The Wind” and “I’m Not Running Away” are ballads that help lift the second half of the album over the first.
There is variety to be found as well. Opening track and first single “Pleasure” alternates between a pulsing beat and a tense, sparse chorus, with urgency beneath lyrics like “I believe in extremes.” But it’s not quite enough to bring the album up to Feist’s earlier releases.
Follow columnist Alicia Kamenick at Twitter.com/corianderstem.