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FEIST: The Middle of Middlebrow

In June of 2011, GQ declared Feist the reigning queen of Middlebrow; the musical equivalent of potato chips. Certainly “Metals”, which was released on October 3rd, does no favors for any counter arguments.

Words: Anna Graizbord

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve always enjoyed the music of Leslie Feist. If that means I’ll have to resign eating the rest of my life’s meals at Applebees, then, so be it. Feist has a pleasant, inoffensive voice and overall style that although isn’t as cringe-worthy as a faux-earnest (or actual, for that matter) musician who takes themselves super seriously, she’s not exactly moving you to tears, either. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Metals, in comparison to Feist’s earlier work, is significantly less upbeat, lighthearted and much more subtle. Though you’d think subtracting what some would deem the milquetoast-ian cheerfulness of The Reminder would give this work more depth, instead Metals just sort of fades into the background.

Apparently, Feist recorded Metals during an 18-month hiatus, and I’d wager to say that this period was probably an overall hard time in her personal life as well. When she’s not reflecting on the specific failings of a romantic relationship, she’s singing about how her life is comparable to that of a wandering bird. No wonder the least depressing song is about a graveyard—and even then, I think maybe it’s a metaphor for building up the courage to confront the problems in your life. Though Feist should be commended for not sugar-coating her feelings and consequently the mood of the record, it’s not necessarily cathartic or even that engaging for the listener.

Instead of feeling the passion, anger and despair behind her sadness, Metals just kind of makes you feel tired—the feeling you get when you’ve been overwhelmingly sad and angry for days and days, so you’ve run out of energy and you’re just sort of this depression-filled lump of a human being. Or perhaps even like being in a relationship that you’ve been unhappy with for such a long time that you can’t even feel feelings anymore besides “blah”. Basically, by the time you get to the last two songs on the album, you might find yourself fucking around online and sort of forgetting you’re even listening to music.

To be fair, there are a couple of standout tracks and a sprinkling of high notes. “How Come You Never Go There” is the first single, and probably the closest to anything resembling her earlier work. My favorite track is “The Circle Married the Line”, whose melody and arrangement sounds like the general idea of a Neil Young song, but with more playful lyrics—what with the Verizon Wireless reference and all. I’m sort of on the fence about “A Commotion”—it’s definitely the most attention-getting/booming on the whole album, but there’s just something about the male chorus chanting that makes me uncomfortable. Maybe that’s the point? Certainly an interestingly subtle experiment if that’s the case, but unfortunately, not enough to make me pay attention for more than about five seconds.

Perhaps Metals will be the bridge between Feist’s commercial peak and potentially more interesting and provoking work? I’m hoping so. Unfortunately, for now, Metals does nothing immediate in shifting anyone’s perspective about Feist being a firmly wedged square in the middle of Middlebrow.

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