Okay, so, this one’s a fortnight behind schedule because of university work. I say this because yes, I am aware that there’s a new At The Drive In album out now and Pleasure probably wouldn’t be the most interesting album to talk about even if it wasn’t a few weeks old. At the same time, though, Pleasure is a really nice little album by a musician who, for me at least, has always appealed precisely through her mastery of unobtrusive, envelope-gilding (rather than envelope-pushing), politely intelligent albums, and it’d be remiss not to give it a bit of attention. So yeah, to clarify, I do recommend Pleasure. Buy it if you’re into indie-folk, try it if you’re not.
Compared to 2011’s Metals, Pleasure has a few more teeth bared. The riffs on the title track and “Any Party” and “Century” don’t snarl, exactly, but they do hiss and spit. At the same time, this never really thickens the broth (á la Bringing It All Back Home-era Bob Dylan); the song structure is very much designed to emphasize the spaces, not the crashes. Each moment of loudness is strung together by thin, nervy quiet, like a sudden blaring in a twitching seismograph. As Lisa Simpson put it best, “You have to listen to the notes she’s not playing.” Myself, I’m into Fugazi, so I’d normally slam this approach for killing the momentum, but Feist makes it work well. Part of it is that the riffier moments are genuinely pretty gorgeous in their own right; the chortling crawl of “Any Party” sounds almost Hendrixian and is definitely a strong point. The hurricane of scraping riffs and martial drums (and Jarvis Cocker’s… interesting narration) that concludes “Century” is another. Another part of it is that Feist’s tonal palette just turns out to be naturally geared to his sort of stuff. The coarse, thistly bite of her acoustic playing shifts fairly seamlessly into raucous-folk punk even when the change is tackled as a hairpin bend. Her voice – which has always had an intrinsically nice sound to it – helps out as well: it’s pure but in a grainy, unfiltered way, like spring water drunk straight out of the ground. Structurally, the album juggles its light and its heavy as well too, especially in terms of how vocal and instrumental melodies interact: confessions are made through loose, almost despondent strumming, which stumbles along with the vocal line as like a pebble being idly kicked along by a pedestrian. On “Lost Dreams” it’s compelling. On “Baby Be Simple,” it’s outright heartbreaking.
At the same time, what’s doubly impressive about Pleasure is how often it manages to twist up the formula in terms of what a “climax” is actually supposed to sound like. Given that the heavy moments are often more spasmodic outbursts than structured crest-and-troughs, the song has to remind us of its forward direction by other means. “Lost Dreams” layers on production noises to thicken up the atmosphere, but the real final act of the song is marked instead by a fog-dimmed chiming (which I’m guessing is the work of some sort of ghostly-sounding mutation of the piano) which doesn’t up the energy but sure as hell ups the tension. The twitching stumble of “Get Not High, Get Not Low” feels throughout the track like it’s caging in some straight-up, back-beating, rickety folk groove, and while that groove is never so melodramatic as to spread its wings when it releases, it certainly gets to take flight. “Baby Be Simple” concludes with something that sounds like a Theremin.
The album’s main flaws are nitpicks, and while there are maybe enough nits here to hold Pleasure back from being as satisfying as Metals, it’s certainly refreshing that that’s what criticizing the album comes down to. The title track doesn’t quite work, for one; it uses its weight as a licence to experiment with atonality, which really isn’t what I wanted from what is still fundamentally a pretty album. Although I’m kind of cheered by the Mastodon reference at the end of “A Man Is Not His Song” (which concludes with the opening of “High Road,”) I feel like that might have entertained Feist (who did a cross-over cover with Mastodon a little while back – her indie-folk reimagining of “Black Tongue” turned out pretty fun by the way) a little more than it entertains us. Still, Pleasures is a tender, imaginative, tightly-made impression of something loosely-made, and one of the better albums to come out this year so far.