You know Feist, because you know the irresistibly bouncy “1234,” featured in an Apple iPod commercial in 2007. That TV ad swept the Canadian singer-songwriter into a whirlwind of touring, publicity and album sales. When things finally settled two years later, she stepped away from music almost entirely. “Metals” is her return, and its spare, spindly songs are a reaction to and reflection on the past four years of her life. It’s also the best record she’s made.
Much the way “Undiscovered First” builds from a barely audible bass drumbeat to a stomping, shouting peak, this 12-song record perches quietly on the edges of the listener’s senses, all acoustic riffs and windswept vocals. Give them some attention (read: repeated plays) and they each reveal a dusky, finely weathered underside.
None of the chirpy, sun-flecked ditties (“Mushaboom”) you associate with Feist (first name: Leslie) are here. Instead, there are titles such as “Bittersweet Melodies,” “Graveyard,” “Get It Wrong, Get It Right” and “The Bad in Each Other,” that ponder personal security, roads not taken and the impulse for goodhearted people to do bad things. “A Commotion” sounds like Nick Cave was hired to arrange it, with a stout male chorus sharpening the tune to a shrill point.
There is still acoustic guitar and piano out front, but the gently shuffling beats that underpinned “The Reminder” are gone. Replacing them is a palpable sense of a high-ceilinged, sparsely furnished room (basic recording was done in Big Sur, Calif.), where an artist, pondering her options, sits in reflection. You have the chance to sit by the window and take it all in.
“The Bad in Each Other,” “Undiscovered First,” “A Commotion”