Over the course of their careers, many artists tend to polish up their sound as their profiles get bigger, opting for larger budgets and more resources to better recreate their internal visions. In that case, Leslie Feist is working backward to achieve the same goal: Years removed from slick mega-hits "1234," "My Moon My Man" and "I Feel It All," Feist has moved onto a complex and lo-fi record with ample rewards to those who dive in.
Pleasure marks a step toward the folk leanings that dominated 2012 Polaris Prize-winning Metals while simultaneously serving as her most experimental album yet. This is a liberated release, piling no shortage of stray ideas into a cohesive string of tracks that vary from creaky, ambient folk to anthemic rock. It's as much Patti Smith as it is PJ Harvey, with a system-fighting sensibility that turns every sonic surprise into a sucker punch to the gut: appearances by Pulp's Jarvis Cocker and prog metal greats Mastodon, acoustic ballads suddenly filtered by effects vocal effects, abrupt choral sing-alongs and even cinematic interludes flourish without burying other ideas. Even Feist's vocal delivery is more spontaneous here, more prone to spoken asides and sudden shouts.
But it's hardly gimmicky or disjointed. Even when Cocker appears at the end of "Century" for a spoken-word piece about the nature of time, Feist builds the instruments behind into an urgent, surging backbone that turns into a bombastic second chorus. The extended soundscape that closes off "Any Party" is filled with tiny details that, when strung together, reveal musings on the inescapability of fame. It showcases a brilliant attention to detail. Accompanying the sparse guitar noodling that opens fifth album Pleasure are the hum of room tone and slight squeak of her fingers on the fretboard, shooting for intimate atmospherics within minute details.
The record's lyrics also seek to display the complexities of intimacy: though not easy to digest or particularly jubilant, there's a rough-and-tumble sense of fight that Feist does little to hide behind eclectic arrangements. In an age where the current school of existentialist thought is focused on humanity as a whole, the words of Pleasure provide comfort on a relevant, individual level, giving space to heal and lick one's wounds. Father John Misty went big on Pure Comedy, but here, Feist effectively looks inward at interpersonal angst, despair and alienation.
Feist says it herself during the climax of "A Man is Not His Song": "More than a melody's needed." She's more than capable of penning a good tune, but Pleasure presents a unique, uncompromising vision of intimacy and enjoyment. True to its name, this is the sound of Feist fighting through the bullshit of being human to have a good time despite it all.
Pick up a copy of Pleasure here. (Universal)