Label Year is a feature in which I purchase all of the releases of a given record label for an entire calendar year and post on each one. I will also look at other significant releases from the label's past. 2011 will be devoted to Arts & Crafts out of Toronto. For more info, check out the introduction.
- Artist: Feist
- Title: Metals
- Format: Album
- Release Date: 10/4/11
- Catalog Number: A&C063
It is quite possible that some, or even a majority, of the previous installments of this feature were TWD readers' introductions to the respective artists. I initially hoped to generate conversation comparing the profiled release to the artist's previous output, but quickly realized it would be lucky to simply have a discussion on the release about which I was writing. With Feist, however, I know familiarity won't be a problem. She became a legitimate household name thanks to the ubiquity of single "1234." As that song and the album it was on, The Reminder, took off, she grew in stature enough to appear on Sesame Street and collaborate with Stephen Colbert. She is now bigger than Arts & Crafts' ability to be her exclusive record label. They put out her newest work Metals in Canada only, but that is enough to give me a chance to write about it here – though I think I probably would have, Label Year or no.
I know the above paragraph mentions how I wanted to discuss an artist's current album in the context of their entire canon during this feature (which is something I usually get into at the end of these posts, not the beginning), but in this particular instance, I think that's a less interesting discussion to have. The narrative of following a big hit has been done to death, whether a band doubles down on what got them popular (more of the same) or decides to change things up at the risk of alienating their newfound audience (sometimes intentionally, to cull the bandwagon fans from the true ones). I know it is legitimate to think about, but I'm just not feeling up to going that route here. You can let me know what you think, but all I'm going to say is that Feist took the latter approach. Metals is a departure, not The Reminder 2.0, though not drastically different, either. I'm not really concerned with why. My concerns are: does it feel honest and does it sound good? The answer to both is yes, it does. It's a great album.
I have lived with this album for almost two months and it has taken me awhile to comprehend it and how I feel about it. Don't get me wrong, that's a not a statement of quality. Nor is it a way of saying "it's a grower." To the contrary, I immediately liked this album. I had a strong positive emotional / gut response. I know that because I bought it and a whole bunch of other albums around the same time, and rather than giving each equal listens, I found myself wanting to keep coming back to Metals. I dug what I heard; after all, like ball, ear don't lie. I was pretty much in from the opening drum clatter-piano-horn-vocal combo of first track "The Bad In Each Other." It was processing everything on an intellectual level that came slower. You know, being able to say why it's good and giving a sense of what I think it's about or what it means to me. Which happen to be important parts of reviewing an album, incidentally.
It all finally coalesced when I returned home last week for Thanksgiving. I currently live in Brooklyn, New York, but my hometown is Erie, Pennsylvania. If you aren't familiar with it, probably the best and most distinctive thing about the city is that is situated on a peninsula called Presque Isle (French for "almost an island"). This is a tremendous resource to have. There are about a dozen beaches, hiking/running/biking/walking trails, opportunities for boating, fishing, birding, and hunting, and so much more; I couldn't possibly list everything it has to offer. It is a prominent place in my life, and every time I'm back I like to spend a little time there. Open year-round, it's particularly nice to go off season to see how things change and to better appreciate the natural beauty when it's less crowded.
I was probably at least subconsciously primed for it knowing that Metals was recorded in Big Sur, California and from looking at the artwork, but when I took a drive around Presque Isle with the album on, it hit me that I was listening to something that aurally fit so perfectly with my surroundings and my mood. This is a beach album, in the sense of an outdoor landscape, not "summer jams." A lot of the songs are contemplative yet have little bursts that captivate, like a late afternoon walk along the shoreline: you take comfort from the rhythm of the water and the feel of the sand, and also notice unique shells, colorful bits of sea glass, or the changing palette of the sky. The songs have a general elemental vibe to them, like water and earth, coming from the spare guitar, piano, and percussion, which are supplemented by some lovely horns and strings. These could be the captivating little details, but more accurately, the shells and stones are probably best represented by Feist's distinct melodic sensibilities and voice. I want to also stress that Metals is rich with dynamics, in a way that makes me think about how a beach can be a placid refuge as well as a source of power and awe. For instance, the way "Undiscovered First" just explodes in the final chorus is pure crashing waves.
Of course, Feist helps my analogy with the frequent lyrical references to nature. "The Circle Married the Line," as a phrase is a wonderful way to describe a sunset. She even mentions that she will "Get some clarity oceanside," which is what I often hope for when I visit Presque Isle (changing it to bay or lakeside, of course). This song is a really amazing example of her beautiful melodies. There are some great lyrics too, like the line "It's as much what it is as what is not." The second verse in sound and word is just magical, especially how it gives way to the break with an awesome little "whoo" from Feist. Some other occurrences of this nature motif include all the mention of birds in "Caught A Long Wind," and "Bittersweet Melodies," the use of mountains as a symbol in the chorus of "Undiscovered First," the title and imagery of "Cicadas and Gulls," (which I hope Iron & Wine one day covers), and the entirety of "Get It Wrong Get It Right," essentially.
It is a well-constructed album and I dig the sound of it, though I don't really know the best way to describe it. The soundscape is a little bit blues, a little bit folk, a little bit adult contemporary even, though largely intangible when it comes to concrete words. It's like describing a beautiful landscape. You know what you are seeing, but recounting details doesn't compare to the experience of being there. Feist just has her own vibe. As is fitting for a "nature" album, the production certainly feels organic. The guitar & piano are mostly unadorned. When there is percussion, it is generally naturalistic, that sort of junkyard, found-object type sound, which I think works to excellent effect, especially on the early tracks. Colin Stetson continues to be one of the year's MVPs with his amazingly textured horn & brass playing.
As often speaks to me, there is an undercurrent of looking to the past, particularly in the context of relationships. The first track "The Bad in Each Other" is about a good man and a good woman who can't find the good in each other, who bring out the worst in the other, and who felt the same feelings at opposite times (all lyrics). That is incredibly fascinating, how sometimes what works "on paper" doesn't always translate into real chemistry. It's a tough, adult lesson to learn. "Comfort Me," seems to portray a situation where the narrator is at fault: She says she's not comforted, but the "mirror with a mirror in its teeth" suggest pain in reflection, like she knows it is on her but doesn't want to admit it. After all she seems reluctant to be comforted – "I wanna hold blame to the guillotine" implies only death will end the grudge. "How Come You Never Go There?" is from the opposite perspective, as the narrator addresses the subject with "You carry on as if I don't love you." It also has the wonderful line "We're living proof we gotta let go," which conveys the need to move on while subtly implying the difficulty of doing so.
"Bittersweet Melodies" may be the most poignant track on Metals and is a stunning portrayal of the ache of love lost. In these situations, words don't always come easily. But that's ok with a line like "Can't go back, can't go on" – six basic words which speak volumes. Also, the vocal "whoas" imply the futility of speech; they express something like a deep sigh. I love the juxtaposition of "memory" and "melody", because I have so many memories triggered by music. Also, the song reminded me of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I unfortunately can't remember it as well as I wish I did (and some quick internet searches haven't helped), but I know there are passages about the randomness of love, symbolized by "the birds of fortuity," as well as something about two people coming together like music notes: it may last awhile and be in harmony, but perhaps the notes may separate eventually. I'm sorry this is vague and poorly remembered, but I do believe there are some thematic connections between this song (even the album) and the book. Maybe a future post?
It's not all about relationships and it's not all bleak. The last track "Get It Wrong Get It Right" hints at optimism for what's next, that after failing, we can still turn it around, and that we should enjoy the process. It's a song about growing. By now you should get the idea that this is a rich and rewarding piece of art. There's a lot I believe anyone can like. For me personally, more than any other album I can think of, the experience of listening to it captures what my little pilgrimages to the peninsula are all about: going into a place of nature to ruminate, to wander both physically and mentally, and to let the distinct setting speak to and inspire me, let it confront and comfort. That's why I love it. To me, Metals is Feist's Walden. Simply put, she has made another incredible record, one absolutely worth spending time with.
For those that have this album, what do you think of it? For those that don't, you can buy it at GalleryAC, Amazon, or iTunes. Check out the video for "How Come You Never Go There?" below (more nature!), as well as information on future and previous installments of Label Year.
Next on Label Year: The digital single "Scissors" by Eight and a Half.
Previously on Label Year:
- Dan Mangan – Oh Fortune
- This Book Is Broken: A Broken Social Scene Story
- Stars The Bedroom Demos
- Broken Social Scene Concert Review (9.8.11 @ Williamsburg Waterfront, Brooklyn, NY)
- Chilly Gonzales The Unspeakable Chilly Gonzales
- Zeus "Permanent Scar / The Darkness"
- Timber Timbre Creep On Creepin' On (+ "Black Water" / "Ferriswheel")
- Ra Ra Riot "Too Dramatic"
- Memphis Here Comes A City
- Chilly Gonzales "You Can Dance"
- Chikita Violenta Tre3s