By Trent Warner
Universal Music Canada
For any avid listener, Feist has always provided a gateway into one’s own turmoil. Although she writes for herself, the Canadian songstress has a way of translating her internal dialogue into relatable fodder by way of her venerable falsetto. Where her breakout album The Reminder skyrocketed her career, and turned her into an international pop star, follow-up Metals pushed back against that mould, garnering her critical acclaim and 2012’s Polaris Music prize. Six years later, she has returned—in full Feist force—with Pleasure.
It’s difficult reviewing Feist’s music because the question that looms runs along these lines: “Is this going to be a ‘one for her, or one for her fans’ type situation?” The truth is, it’s hard to say. There’s skeletal frameworks of radio-ready hits on the album, but they lack the polish or obvious-charm of her earlier work.
This is of course intentional. Feist is too skilled a songwriter and musician for it not to be. On Pleasure, she wanted to create and record songs in their rawest, purest forms. As is expected, there’s plenty of hissing guitar and echo throughout. The album is shaped similarly to Metals: there’s no major stand outs, but thematically, and as one piece of work, it holds strong. What it lacks, in comparison to her previous work, is the expansiveness of sound and the presence of many hands in production. She’s achieved her goal of entrenching the album with humanity, but that also gives the album a harshness that could be divisive.
In an interview with Pitchfork, she said, “It was about wanting to make sure I was making another record because I needed to do it and not because it’s just what I’ve done so far.” One that point, you could count this as an album for her. It’s an album for one to get lost to and with – there’s a warmth throughout it, it’s just not obvious. If Feist’s going to be the pop star many want her to be, it’ll be on her terms and in her way.
On “A Man is Not His Song,” Feist slides over a soft guitar line, as the song builds up to a choir of voices, echoing behind her… “We all heard those old melodies (like they’re singing right to me.” The song then ends with a Mastodon guitar riff: an abrasive antithesis to the rest of the song’s framework, and a disruption of the peace inherent. The album is meditative throughout, inviting guests just when you’ve hit solitude.
Four test pressings of the album’s vinyl are, at the time of writing this, intended to be released to fans, who were asked to describe their ideal listening party scenario. But this album’s probably best enjoyed alone, or in a small group and an intimate setting, there’s no celebration quite like “1234” or other uplifting Feist moments.
Pleasure, however, is no less loud than she’s been, complete with hand clapping and choral chants throughout. “Any Party” perfectly stages the nervousness and excitement one feels returning home to a town and old friends you used to know. It’s a mix of pleasure and loss, syncopated by blues guitar and mild distortion. It even ends with you leaving, the door creaking, crickets in the air as you enjoy the solitude that comes after. There are so many unexpected elements and moments within moments throughout Pleasure.
“Pleasure” and “I am Not Running Away,” see Feist embodying the rock goddess she could easily be. Like PJ Harvey, she sounds at home drawling with harsh guitar. The album’s title track and lead single is so carnal, you can almost feel your body pushing up against someone else’s in the moment. “I am Not Running Away,” has her singing like a late-night dive bar crooner, a lamentation for her independence.
Each song could be Feist’s pop-friendly moment, but each song has some element that pushes it or distorts it so that it’s not quite complete. In “Pleasure,” she brings you where you think the song will climax, only to pull it away from you. “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You,” is a structured, tragic song about heartbreak. The reverb on her voice distorts her words to a loneliness and timelessness. This is anyone’s heartbreak, but also anyone’s retribution – coming to terms with your own weakness.
Tweeting about the album she said, “The experience of pleasure is mild or deep, sometimes temporal, sometimes a sort of low grade lasting, usually a motivator.” This is true for all of it. It’s less about pleasure than the anticipation leading up to it, it’s the work in service of the reward. And there’s definitely Pleasure in that.Feist, Pleasure, Universal Music Canada