Recently, Leslie Feist had to reconsider her relationship to music. It’s easy to understand why: Feist has been performing since age 15, first in Canadian punk bands and later in indie powerhouse Broken Social Scene. At the turn of the century, she began releasing solo albums, which resulted in four efforts — 1999’s Monarch, 2004’s Let it Die, 2007’s The Reminder and 2011’s Metals. Amid it all, she (perhaps unintentionally) struck commercial gold with a hugely successful single, 2007’s exceptionally charming “1234,” which earned her Juno awards and Grammy nods, plus guest spots on both Sesame Street and in an iPod commercial.
When she hit her late thirties, Feist began to re-evaluate her drive to create music, telling Pitchfork, “[I wanted] to make sure I was making another record because I needed to do it and not because it’s just what I’ve done so far. I didn’t want to think that 15-year-old me got to decide what I’ll do for the rest of my life because she just happened to be in a punk band.” Ultimately, after considering going back to school or opening a hotel, Feist did two things: write Pleasure — and build a roof deck. To that end, the album is an attempt to own the pain of uncertainty and flip it on its head.
In considering the pain/pleasure binary, Pleasure is artfully arranged to include a number of dueling perspectives. Loud and quiet is the most obvious experiment here; at its core, this is Feist’s most stripped-down record to date — it was recorded live and you can hear an analog-tape hiss throughout. And yet, the grainy, placid “A Man Is Not His Song” ends explosively, tacking on a quickie sample of Mastodon’s galvanic “High Road” at the end. The bass-led “Century” contrasts Feist’s meaty soprano register with Jarvis Cocker’s ominous baritone and ends mid-chorus, seemingly when the track has reached its apex.
Tonally, Feist exposes a storm of feeling on Pleasure, probing an abyss of her own confusion, lack of trust in others and self-imposed isolation, and yet also a core tendency to love and care. Gone is the cheery optimism invoked on earlier tracks like “Mushaboom” and “1234” — Feist is raw and reflective here, looking back to a more innocent, starry-eyed version of herself on the starkly poignant “Lost Dreams” (“Thought I was discovering… Wanted to know everything… Winter followed summer,” she sings on the bridge). Earlier, Feist examines lost connections on the simply strummed “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You,” which fans and frays her vocals into an inner-seashell hum. Still, despite all of these bruises, she has the capacity to reconnect in a substantial way, promising, “You know I’d leave any party for you,” on “Any Party.”
And there is Pleasure’s most valuable lesson: Like Feist, everyone at some point may feel the need to reassess what drives them. But eventually, if you treat yourself with enough compassion and understanding, and trust others to listen, the next step may not be as obscure as you thought.