If you haven’t checked in with Feist since back when she was the chill Toronto folk-pop charmer happily counting us off on her left-field 2007 hit “1234,” you might be in for a surprise. Pleasure, her first LP in six years, trades the sweater-wearing kitchen-jam vibe of her breakthrough The Reminder for a stark intimacy that can suggest Kate & Anna McGarrigle if they’d been big fans of the Young Marble Giants’ post-punk bedroom mumblings or PJ Harvey’s blues-wrath epistle To Bring You My Love. “It’s my pleasure and your pleasure,” Feist sings, her voice low, raw-nerved and right in your ear against dank, stressed-out guitar roil.
Of course, there’s always more to a Feist record than meets the eye, especially when she’s navigating in the dark. These songs build slow as they add instrumental muscle on a skeletal form, arriving at something at once scary and lovely. The musical palette is wide and subtle: Her voice sleepily skates above West African-tinged blues guitar and coolly tumbling percussion on “Get Not High, Get Not Low,” and stays closer to the ground on “Lost Dreams,” as the instrumentation makes like a distant train whistle. The narrative shadow play and alluringly mysterious delivery that have always been her hallmarks define the set. Often they reveal bracing truths (“How could I live if you’re still alive?” she opines, almost slamming her acoustic guitar on “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You”).
But that sense of foreboding comes balanced against a gathering warmth. The gusts on the “The Wind” threatens to rip her to shreds but they also shoulder her toward epiphany; “keep on the horizon,” she demands, as subtle orchestral jazz textures and a softly puttering synth-drum move the song forward. “Young Up,” which is kind of like a Canadian indie crooner’s notion of Laura Nyro’s Seventies work with Labelle, opens with intimations of her own death, a coming attraction she seems to take in relative stride. Here even the bleakest truths feel like the stuff of half-remembered dreams.