Has Feist Stopped Dancing?

Published at the Toronto Standard

Do you remember your first audiovisual glimpse of Feist? Let It Die’s second video, “One Evening,” came out when I was 19. The song intrigued me. It was funky. But that lo-fi choreography was something else, like, “what IS this white girl doing?!” Feist’s evident love for acting a fool on camera pulled me in.

You can’t not like Nova Scotia-born, Prairie-raised, Toronto-made Leslie Feist. Her catalogue has documented erratic joys and errant lows with exceptional irreverence, traversing wood-and-wires territory as well as chanson, bossa nova and halcyon piano pop. She is an OG and a Canadian hero. She is our generation’s Anne Murray. And for all her art-rock ambition (and, with what might be kill-me-now twee in less thoughtful hands), Feist has been marvelously reticent to take herself too seriously.

My favourite video of Feist was shot in a London, UK club in the mid ’00s. In it she accompanies accomplished pianist and rap dilettante Chilly Gonzales (a creative collaborator to this day) on his song, “This One Jam.” It starts with Feist in a track jacket and ball cap, bobbing furiously while Gonzales raps. It ends with her peeling down to a hot pink and orange bodysuit for a manic vaudevillian freak-out. It is the best.

Four years ago there was that mindfucky sea change, the iPod Nano commercial featuring “1234,” which took our girl from Queen Street to Sesame Street. The original inspiration for the song’s video is interesting; a young Feist’s participation in the 1988 Calgary Olympics opening ceremonies. But, like all songs that churn on past sanity’s brink, “1234” entered its own stratosphere of context-less art, no doubt helped along by that cheery music video and blue spangled jumpsuit. It rendered Feist “manic pixie dream girlie,” says my friend Simon, and for a time defined her for the uninitiated.

Metals, the new album, feels deliberately in reaction to that. Like the only way she could force herself to stop dancing was to uproot everything. Contra The Reminder’s winsome “So Sorry,” Metals begins loud and unapologetic with “The Bad In Each Other.” Almost every song rises to a solid, throaty climax, distancing itself from breathy cooing and playfulness. Feist limns love and relationships with quavering clarity, blanketing you with just bare truth and melody. There were also rules, as Feist told The Globe & Mail, like no hand percussion or “syncopated interplay between the hi-hat cymbal and the snare and kick drum.”

Whimsy isn’t totally absent from this record though. Wayward metres, seen on lead single “How Come You Never Go There?,” and rambly chorus lines hold it back from the edge of Seriousness. “Circle Married The Line” is the most rockabye baby precious thing on here, and even then it’s daubed with some vocal strain. “Comfort Me” starts quiet and moves into a princessy, self-indulgent stomp with Feist kind of screwfacing, “When you comfort me, it doesn’t bring me comfort actually.” Metals is more shambolic silver than gaudy gold. It works, but I liked her better as a dancing oddball.