Hey what do you know, it’s the best indie rock album of the year thus far! And it didn’t come from some hot new artist on their debut or sophomore release, but instead from a consistent veteran of the genre, Calgary’s Leslie Feist, who has put out five solo LPs, worked within the Canadian super-group Broken Social Scene, been nominated for Grammys and Canadian Juno awards, and won the Polaris Prize for Canada’s best album with her last LP, Metals. So how is this record flying under the radar? I guess the zeitgeist is to fawn over the younger acts in the indie rock renaissance. Pleasure thus arrives as a good kick in the ass in the from of an emotional, catchy, lo-fi guitar record.
Pleasure was recorded quickly, with raw, gritty, lo-fi production aesthetic. Tape hiss blankets every song, acoustic guitars twang and scrape, and the vocals are rough, like they’re coming from old dusty speakers in a old dusty cabin. That said, these songs are still adorned with creative production flourishes that often come in the form of creepy choral harmonies and zig-zagging or crumbling, devastating electric guitar lines. Some of these songs are quicker than others, featuring a more upbeat and ‘rocking’ melody or chorus, while more often they are slower and lack definite shape, picking up and falling at Feist’s will, but never are they straightforward, 4/4, four-chord verse/chorus rock songs.
The title track that kicks off the record is as dirty as anything here, featuring little more than Feist’s vocals and her guitar, with a little bass drum pounding out quarter notes on one channel and some very low synths in the other, hopping back and forth between chilly verses and a muted chorus before the song explodes with energy and singalong vocals for the final coda. “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You” is a haunting acoustic ballad with some excellent tremolo vocal harmonies. After the sort of red-herring title track, the lyrics solidify the album’s core theme – alternating feelings of love and hate, desire and disgust post-breakup. After the cozy and meditative “Get Not High, Get Not Low”, “Lost Dreams” rounds out the album’s opening act with its sparsest, most ghostly track, complete with trickling chimes and a guitar solo that evokes the twisted metal of a car accident splitting the song down the center.
The record truly comes into its own (and, from a structural standpoint, reminds me of Panda’s Person Pitch) with the twin behemoth centerpieces, “Any Party” and “A Man Is Not His Song”. The former is a gargantuan strummer of a ballad, the first track to make use of a full drum kit and one that embraces big, full harmonies courtesy of the record’s co-creators. The track takes place sometime in the past, before the heartbreak of the rest of the record (“And I tried reaching you on your new flip phone,” Feist hollers at one point), and the titular sentiment is an interesting one. Yes, this is a triumphant love song, but as Feist repeats over and over “You know I’d leave any party for you,” it becomes a love song contextualized by her own life, likely based in some real, true event, where leaving a party, any party for someone, is the truest display of affection at that point in their relationship. The coolest moment on the record comes when we physically hear Feist leaving a party – she walks through the house, out the door, through a crowded yard, and down the sidewalk as a car flies by, blaring the album’s title track from its speakers as it passes. The inventiveness and coolness of this moment is hard to overstate.
As the car passes and the chirping of crickets takes over, Feist moves into the album’s best song, the sad and beautiful “A Man is Not His Song”. Back in the present, post-party, all the love and energy of “Any Party” has been transformed into painful nostalgia – “That filament that files by / And it brings yellow light from those yellow summers back / By coconut palm, snowy pine / I’ve heard years pass through my ears to hear otherwise”. The lyricism is brutal and poetic and excellent. There is a heartbreaking moment of call and response – “We’ve all heard those old melodies / (Like they’re singing right to me)” before the song becomes enveloped by multiple falsetto overdubs repeating “More than a melody’s needed”, a curious phrase that worms into your brain and requires repeated investigation. That too is then eaten up by the chugging guitar of Mastodon’s “High Road“.
Nothing compares to this peak in melody, creativity, energy and emotion, but the record’s third act is far from a let down. “The Wind” is a breezy comedown, but the record hits another climax in the form of “Century”, a building, driving track that features a guest passage from Jarvis Cocker as the group counts down “One of those endless dark nights of the soul / When a single second feels like a century”. The track is a force, and the bitter sentiment at its core, the idea that relationships just pass time until death (“Someone who will lead you to someone who will lead you to someone at the end of the century”) is uncomfortably true. “Baby Be Simple” continues the established pattern of relieving tense, brittle tracks with sweet, amorphous, folksier ones. The penultimate “I’m Not Running Away” moves toward tired and bluesy, before the album closes with “Young Up”, an interesting but correct choice for the closer. We’re treated to the album’s only prominent keyboard part (a 60s-style electric organ), and Feist artfully glides through a swooning, jazzy, 50s and 60s lounge-style arrangement before leaving the album’s audience with one last wizened but optimistic thought – “Fear not ya young punk / That everything that falls is falling / Even if you don’t have your own back / And everything that needs to fall is fallen”.
This album isn’t full of new, radical ideas, mind-boggling production, world-building thematic concepts or dense, nine-minute, multi-part epic tracks. But the choice of a spectral, creepy, dusty production aesthetic, combined with Feist’s wonderful vocals and great use of falsetto harmony, scratchy and jagged guitar work, intriguing lyrical work and perfect sequencing all combine to make it a record that I can’t stop listening to and my favorite album to have come out this year. “Any Party” into “A Man Is Not His Song” is the best 1-2 punch I’ve heard in a long time, and I hope that this record receives more attention as the year winds on – its certainly deserving of it.