‘Pleasure’, the title track of Leslie Feist’s first album in six years and fifth overall, was described by its creator as a road map for the album that it spearheads. It’s brash, and less elegant than what we’re used to from the Canadian architect of alternative folk. The minor-key chorus juxtaposes a moodiness in her vocals we’ve never heard before with a punk grit guitar riff few of us would have expected from her. What remains from her previous works is the clouding studio hiss, and her inimitable vocal timbre, not for a second allowing listeners to ignore its exceptionality.
Pleasure is every bit as cohesive, if less grandiose, than Metals. Gone are the lavish baroque orchestras like a more industrial Florence & The Machine, and in their place, the wilful directness of voice, lyrics and instrumentation. In a brooding tip-toe through the lyrical ambiguity of ‘Lost Dreams’, followed by a hop, skip, jump, and further pirouette through the inviting paean to preferred company, ‘Any Party’, it’s noticeable that these songs are much more skeletal than their six-year construction period might suggest. “A little bit more like a pencil drawing than a full, expressive watercolour”, according to Feist. Some of the albums most enjoyable characteristics are slices of guitar, subverting expectations this time around with a guitar tone like black molasses. As the sole guitarist on the record, one could argue that this is the best showcase for Feist’s talents yet.
Feist could never have been called “prolific”, but this is the longest we’ve had to wait for a new album yet. Admitting that she almost quit music, in retaliation to an assuredly perplexing realisation that 16-year-old Leslie had decided what “forever” Leslie would do, there is nothing rushed about the album. Lyrical verbosity is absent, and at times she takes whole areas of a track to repeat the same phrase for portions of what are commonly 5+ minute songs. Which never feels lazy, but always judicious. Take the purposefully jarring moments into consideration; the cut-off at the end of Jarvis Cocker-featuring ‘Century’, and the blasting of a Mastodon sample at the close of ‘A Man is Not His Song’, which act like carefully-placed interludes between variable, palpable moods.
Tying a glittering bow on her rough-hewn Picasso, ‘Young Up’, its synthesisers, and a sprinkling of positivity is the taste left in the mouths of its audience. Perhaps nobody wished for this to be the next album Feist made, but it has fulfilled its purpose of setting her record straight. Reportedly, these eleven songs are the only ones she wrote between 2011 and 2017, but now, she knows where she’s at, we know where she’s at, and nobody was reduced to unnecessary pleasantries. The lack of a contaminating aim for perfection means Pleasure doesn’t disappoint, but nourishes and satisfies. Feist has an unbroken streak of great albums, and like only the most remarkable artists, there’s already a craving for whatever she’ll gift us with next.