Primarily one of the most fundamental and noteworthy of the 26-person-strong indie rock outfit and music collective Broken Social Scene, Leslie Feist, having been recording under the simple solo alias of Feist for nearly two decades now, has often taken her time when it comes to putting out full-length studio albums of her own. This is arguably for good reason, however, as each new project has seen the Canadian singer-songwriter amend and develop her sound in some way or another. With 18 years between the release of her solo debut, Monarch (Lay Your Jewelled Head Down), and her most recent opus, Pleasure, Feist has, in some respects, come full circle, whilst nevertheless quite explicitly exhibiting the ways in which she has evolved as one of lo-fi pop and indie folk’s female powerhouses. 10 years have passed since Feist’s third and defining solo album, The Reminder, established the artist as a particularly powerful player in the contemporary indie rock gam. The album made use of a decadent array of baroque instrumentation, applied in a way that crafted a sound that was as smooth as it was detailed, and as subdued as it was engaging. This record’s follow-up, Metals, however, substituted this style for an approach that was similarly unassuming — even more so, in fact — but to the point of being rather lifeless. This, however, did seem, at least to some extent, to be Feist’s intention. Nonetheless, Metals delved further into a dreary, lo-fi indie aesthetic than any previous album from the artist, but perhaps too far, in that many songs came out on the other side as rather drab and underwritten beneath their moody surface. Stylistically speaking, Pleasure sees the artist trudge further into this murky territory, but whilst employing many inventive and generally interesting sonic ideas that inject some of these tracks with the life that was missing from much of Metals. This being said, after scratching past the admittedly more innovative and attractive gloss of this project, Pleasure points to many of the same structural issues as its precursor, with there being a lack of compelling compositional creations to match the sleek exterior. The end product is an album that surely makes for a pleasing listening experience at times, but is missing much of a semblance of artistic urgency to truly leave an impression on the listener in the way that Feist likely intended.
When it comes to the most forcible and cogent moments across Pleasure, it doesn’t take much to understand what Feist does right to make these tracks so endearing, and few songs from the album exemplify this as much as the opening title track. Like many cuts in the tracklisting, the opening song is ultimately based on a handful of rather simple musical ideas, and it’s simply the way in which these motifs come together that makes the track so effective. The central melody of the song is a straightforward but memorable guitar riff, supported by a hushed ambient drone that is subtle almost to the point of indiscernibility, which provides a greatly satisfying accompaniment to Feist’s similarly low-key and borderline unobtrusive vocal performance. The almost ambient pop hue to the introduction of Pleasure ensures that the outbreak of a punchy, propulsive, blues rock guitar riff after the first chorus hits with maximum intensity, despite being relatively controlled when it comes to indie rock in the grand scheme of things. When the lead melody is once again established, it finds itself now decorated with some beautifully plaintive and mellow woodwinds that truly capture the charmingly organic quality that Feist was seemingly attempting to achieve on Pleasure, with this arrangement encapsulating the natural ambiance that makes the album’s strongest moments so sweet. The increasingly expansive sound of Lost Dreams, for instance, which is made to sound impressively grandiose just through the introduction of a simple bass line and some duelling, wailing guitar lines, is similarly gratifying in its structure, but it is also indicative of one of the record’s underlying structural issues. In essence, the framework and general idea behind Lost Dreams differs little to that of the title track, meaning that the piece lacks a lot of its intended potency purely based on the fact that it’s missing the element of surprise. At this point, therefore, the salient selling point of the song arises from its unquestionably well thought-out arrangement, but this epitomises one of the most substantial issues with Pleasure, that being that the ambitious instrumental and sonic elements of the album are seldom met with an appropriate amount of compositional initiative to truly bring out the best in Feist’s artistic vision.
With there being a handful of cuts in the tracklisting that feature few of the instrumental indulgences of the majority of Pleasure, instead being rather stripped-back and sonically sparse, the structural shortfalls of the record are made most clear on such tracks. This is largely true of the album’s backend, but even songs as early as I Wish I Didn’t Miss You, the second cut in the tracklisting, are straightforward to the point of being underwhelming, as opposed to charismatically minimal. In the case of I Wish I Didn’t Miss You, the primary force preventing the song from being completely elementary is the stuttering vocal effect used on Feist’s voice during the refrains, which may, at least, provide the track with some semblance of individuality in the context of the rest of the tracklisting, but it is nevertheless a rather superficial trait at that. Baby Be Simple, the longest track from the record at over six minutes in length, is bare in a similar fashion, largely being based around some fragmented acoustic guitar chords supporting some equally fractured singing from Feist, with only a smooth bass and some relatively vague ambiance eventually being introduced to reinforce the piece. Again, whilst there exists a rather gracefully raw sound to this cut, from a compositional standpoint, there seems to be little reason as to why this song needed to be so long, given how ultimately uneventful it feels as a result. Likewise, the two final cuts from the album, I’m Not Running Away and Young Up, are both some subdued, soulful, mid-tempo jams cut very much from the same cloth, which also run dangerously close to sounding somewhat directionless at times. As a result, Pleasure ends without leaving a particularly powerful impression on the listener, which is only apt, given just how disappointingly plain much of the record was underneath its occasionally glossy veneer.
Of the selection of deliberately understated songs on the record, the one remarkable choice would have to be A Man Is Not His Song, largely arising from the fact that the cut boasts some of Feist’s most interesting and inventive lyrics, not solely from Pleasure, but from the artist’s entire discography. In a fascinating spin on the notion of separating the art from the artist, Feist uses innovative forms of word painting to convey her insightful statements on the song’s topic, with the group vocals appearing during the bridge, proclaiming their desire to sing along to this man’s song, presumably mirroring the varying significance a piece of art can hold for its audience, regardless of how effectively it conveyed the artist’s own complexities. Outside of this, however, much of the lyrical content across Pleasure is, unfortunately, as rudimentary as the music it often finds itself accompanying, with Feist’s observations on human emotions routinely being too general to sustain a substantial level of personal resonance with the listener.
Ultimately, for all the instrumental and stylistic flourishes peppered throughout much of Pleasure, it’s a shame that so few of these moments are reinforced with the necessary amount of compositional or lyrical chops to fully bring Feist’s creative ideas to fruition. Similarly, with there being a notable lack of flow or cohesion between tracks, the album can feel somewhat aimless as a whole, with the lack of consistency to guide the listener through the tracklisting losing some of the intimacy that the record’s raw aesthetic was likely intended to capture. As such, whilst Pleasure has its moments, such songs are isolated within an album that is reserved and indistinct to the point of seldom attaining the degree of potency for which Feist seemed to be striving.
The Vinyl Verdict: 5.5/10