A lot has happened to Leslie Feist in the four years since she released The Reminder in 2007. High-profile Apple ads and numerous soundtrack features quickly brought her music to a much wider audience in a relatively short amount of time, all while the Canadian songstress has kept a mostly low-profile herself. In fact, today’s release of Metals, the singer’s fourth LP, comes after a two-year break from music that seemed to be a reasoned step back from the success of The Reminder, a self-imposed re-route down the road not paved in gold. It’s clear in interviews when she refers to the commercial success of duct tape arrows in big arenas leading her towards food and shower that something had to change as her choices started to not feel like they were genuinely her own. After consecutive world tours and a lesson in numbers on Sesame Street, the Canadian native decided to take time off in Toronto to just let everything settle. She forged a quieter life as she walked her dogs, sorted her own bills, and started a tomato garden, all in hopes of regaining a proper sense of self. The resulting long-gestated album is a cohesive, resolute meditation on love and life with the greater perspective she gathered in her personal retreat.
Like previous efforts, matters of the heart are front and center – but while The Reminder was a collection of really great songs, Metals is an album. It’s her personal manifesto after a period of well-timed reflection. She floats between a relationship gone sour in songs like “The Bad In Each Other” (when a good man and a good woman bring out the worst in each other), and the clarity she reached to help bring about this realization in others like “Caught A Long Wind” and “Cicadas and Gulls”, both land and sea testaments to the importance of maintaining perspective on your life. This sort of disjointed storytelling makes up a timeless whole that’s less self-indulgent than albums past but more profound. Her vocals still glide with the grace of the whitest dove you’ve ever seen (“The Circle Married The Line”), and her phrasing of single words like “chickadee” able to send you straight back for a repeat listen. It’s an album that almost feels selfish to listen to on headphones, like it needs to be shared with worldly surroundings to be complete – to hear the way it fills a room or watch it sway the night air right around you. It intoxicates like wine, with “Bittersweet Melodies” a fitting example that brings about both pleasure and pain; a feeling of nostalgia for something that you no longer even want.
Feist talks a lot about the bare process of making this album, supposedly recorded in an abandoned barn near a scenic cliff in Big Sur, California. Of her guitar playing, she says, “I was trying to capture when I was just a guitar player in a band, not even singing. What it feels like to harness a guitar properly, not just use it to accompany yourself.” Lyrics draw heavily on the corrective qualities of the natural world, in which it seems she found refuge. The resulting sound is less whimsical but still grand, with saxophones and strings that feel not restrained but composed.
There is a coldness to the album that pairs well with crisp air and a gust of wind, and coddles a spine-tingling feeling not unlike the touch of metal to skin. It captures and explores the beauty of the half hour when the sky sits in perfect balance between night and day, and the intensity of insight during that absolute stillness feels completely yours. Somehow it makes time pass more slowly, and you anticipate the feeling of the sun coming up after sitting for hours in the dark by the album’s end.
In essence, Metals is about knowing when to step away from insincerity - in a relationship when what you have becomes what you had, and in a bigger sense, from a path in life that no longer feels like your own. The ability to discern wanting out of habit rather than true desire when you realize the things you want are really the things they want. It’s the step back to see everything around you more clearly, away from the daily distractions of an ambitious life. It’s about being okay with asking yourself “Is this the way to live?” even if or especially when you’re on the brink of tempting success, and trusting the answer you know to be true. As the album comes to an elegant close with “Get It Wrong, Get It Right”, the last words sung are “Get it right, get it right, get it right” and act as a mantra to always fight for a life that’s fully your own.