Critical Voices: Feist, Metals

September 29, 2011

Metals sounds as if Feist drove away from home in a car filled with every instrument she could find at the flea market. She went into the Canadian wilderness and made music with anyone she met out there. At least, that’s what it looks like from the album cover with her chilling out on a tree limb.
Her previous work sounds like it was meant for small rooms. This album could be played in stadiums or banquet halls. Her earlier work’s groovy keys and sparse drums showed off her voice, while Metals focuses on instrumentation, a faulty preference on Feist’s part.
Metals is far less slick and polished, favoring a folksier tone.  Keys and even basic piano are absent from the bulk of the tracks in favor of twangier guitar, punctuated horns, and vocal overdubs. The best example of this is “Undiscovered First,” which starts out with a slow guitar strum and builds to gritty blues stomp. “Graveyard” uses the same method, ending in a chorus of Feist belting out. If only the rest of the album were as gratifying.
“Cicadas And Gulls,” an acoustic ballad, makes one pine for the deep guitar tones of “Let It Die,” or even “Gatekeeper.” The sound is more Jack Johnson or Norah Jones than Astrud Gilberto.
Plenty of echoing drums and 4/4 rhythms could be seen as an attempt to give Metals a raw element. However, the album’s reliance on studio tricks and strings loses the music’s focus. In 2005, Feist often performed solo onstage and created soundscapes with loop pedals. The sparseness and subtlety of that performance style is nowhere to be found.
There are a few points on the album where the music gets interesting, though. Lots of slow songs don’t stand out, but when Feist raises her voice like Christina Aguilera in  “A Commotion,” the tune thumps by brassily and awkwardly.
All the songs are vaguely about relationships, so there are few quotable lyrics. Apparently, Feist hasn’t made any progress in her love life.
Overall, Metals is less intimate and more dramatic. It’s hard for Feist’s lonely lyrics to stick when she’s surrounded by all the sound. The exception to this is “How Come You Never Go There.” As it is piano-driven and more simplistic than the other songs, the listener can actually hear Feist’s voice clearly, making this track stand out among the rest.  It’s essentially a reminder to the listener of Feist’s old days, back when she still sounded like a solo artist.
Despite the fancy horn section, Metals’ weakness is its failure to capture the soulfulness that was the best part of her earlier work. Feist as a rock band turns out to be not nearly as fun as Feist singing the blues.

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