Music

Feist: Metals

The sunniness of "1234" has left the building, and if the majority of Metals is any indication, Feist's musical journey has taken a turn for the dark.


Feist

Metals

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2011-10-04
UK Release Date: 2011-10-03
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Artist Website
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Leslie Feist’s 2004 major-label debut, the masterful Let It Die, opened up with “Gatekeeper", a song that balanced a sweet delivery with serious subject matter. Her performance was so lovely that it’s easy to skip over the fact that she’s singing about the often fleeting nature of love. The song comes off as happy, even though its lyrics indicate otherwise. This mood was then embellished in full technicolor on the smash hit of her 2007 sophomore outing The Reminder, “1234". If the exuberance of the song wasn’t obvious enough, the brilliant music video sold it even more, with the grand choreography took the song to a whole other level. Feist’s skill at making the morose sound almost buoyant is impeccable, and it’s all owed to her deeply versatile and gorgeous voice, which has remained consistently strong in all of her musical endeavours.

On Metals, however, the elation of the aforementioned pieces is nowhere to be found. Instead, Feist seems to have a particularly noticeable case of the blues.

This is evident right from the beginning on the album’s first and best track, “The Bad in Each Other", which tonally shapes the rest of the record. Over a guitar riff that recalls outlaw country, Feist laments, “We have the same feelings / At opposite times.” The horns that once provided an exuberant climax to “1234” here supplant the dark melancholy of a relationship falling apart. The song is one of her fieriest performances. As nice as “1234” was, it’s great to see her get a little angry. “The Bad in Each Other” sets a high bar for the rest of the record and though the record overall is solid, it doesn’t quite match up to the quality of this song.

Metals, though still retaining elements of her past work in folk, is a sonic divergence from both Let It Die and The Reminder. The album is mostly low-tempo, and the blues and jazz sounds that she explored on past records (notably the title track of Let It Die) are fleshed out substantially. This isn’t “Feist made a blues album", but its disposition is certainly less sunny than its predecessors. The album is more akin to “Train Song", the haunting duet with Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard she contributed to the Dark Was the Night compilation, than the bubbly “1234".

This sonic shift is shown most effectively on tracks like “The Bad in Each Other", “The Undiscovered First", and “Comfort Me". The latter of the three, in particular, is one of the album’s strongest moments. Beginning with a lightly strummed, bluesy acoustic guitar, the song later then picks up with a stomping drum beat and a simple but effective chorus of “Na na na na na.” It’s a moment where one is likely to find himself singing along, but it’s also very haunting in a peculiar way. “Undiscovered First", along with “Graveyard", is one of the tunes on the album where Feist layers multiple vocal tracks of herself, creating a whole choir of Feists. On “Undiscovered First", the choir, alongside well-placed stomps, evokes the feeling of a church choir. In “Graveyard", she somehow manages to sound like a British children’s choir. Given that the former is one of the album’s best explorations of the blues and the latter is one of the stronger folk pieces, these choir-like effects fit perfectly. Throughout the record the music is consistently good, but it’s always Feist’s commanding vocal that’s at the forefront. Even on the album’s weakest moments, like the boring “Cicadas and Gulls", she never fails to impress.

The folksier moments are both natural continuations of her past work, but they don’t stand out as well as the blues and jazz-centric tracks. “The Circle Married the Square” has the feel of a classic folk song, its repetitive chorus bringing Donovan to mind. “Bittersweet Melodies", one of the album’s catchier moments, sounds of some of her piano-centric songs on her past outings. These moments are instead better done when she balances them with the overall tone of the album. “How Come You Never Go There", which obliquely recalls Fleetwood Mac, is a great choice for the album’s lead single, namely because it blends the folk and the blues very well. (It also helps that it’s one heck of an earworm).

After Metals has concluded its runtime, it’s quite clear that Ms. Feist is still one hell of a songwriter. The album also reveals that her strength is still in musical diversity; her powerful voice easily fits in many genres, all the while retaining the signature sound that she’s come to develop. The stylistic explorations on Metals prove that she’s not running out of any ideas, but the moments on the album that most clearly parallel her prior outings aren’t as strong as their predecessors. Though this is a fair complaint against the record, Feist’s plain talent is so good that even this album’s relative quality compared to her other records doesn’t do much to diminish her songwriting capabilities. Feist is as captivating as ever, which makes Metals a pleasure to listen to.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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