It’s never a good idea to underestimate Feist. I loved her last album Pleasure at the time — and gave it a very positive review right over here — but I didn’t anticipate just how much I would return to it in the five years since it’s been released. Every few months I’d find myself back in its orbit, a quiet album that refuses to fade into the background. The songs on Pleasure just kept getting stronger, and its pull sustained. Any time I’d listen to it, I felt it was maybe the best thing she’s ever done — and Leslie Feist has some heavy-hitters under her belt. And still I had to check myself when at first I wasn’t terribly excited by the prospect of a new Feist album when Multitudes was announced a few months ago. Why, after I had enjoyed the last one so much?
Maybe it’s something about the mode of music that Feist is making now. She’s several permutations removed from the pop-leaning pleasure centers of The Reminder. The freedom afforded by “1234” has given way to a discography as rewarding as it can be dense, or rather so sparse and unassuming that it requires some patience to sink into. As she’s gotten older and grown as an artist, Feist has become more confident in letting silence settle into her prickly and inquisitive songs. Multitudes feels like a natural continuation of the intimacy she conjured up on Pleasure, an entrenchment of what made that album so subtle and special.
Multitudes was workshopped in a series of shows meant to be up-close and personal. Working with production designer Rob Sinclair, Feist envisioned the Multitudes set as an immersive experience: small crowds circled around her performing on stage, as she worked through these songs in real-time. The arrangement was actually dreamed-up before the pandemic, but only became a reality after the touring economy made smaller productions feasible, and in some ways preferable, as a tentative return to live music. The recorded version of Multitudes holds onto the sacred feeling of that space. Produced with her frequent collaborators Robbie Lackritz and Mocky (with an assist from Blake Mills), Multitudes captures the stillness in the air when you witness a performance so intimate that you’re afraid to breathe too heavily in fear of disturbing the atmosphere.
Though it contains its fair share of scratchy acoustics and silent simmers, Multitudes is not as stark as Pleasure was. There are moments of pure bombast, shambling drums and guitars converging into the sort of sonic fireworks that feel like rallying cries. She taps into some of that anthemic Broken Social Scene magic on “Borrow Trouble,” where she repeats the central refrain (“I’ll take all of it that you got to give”) in a cacophonous rush, singing against herself in a tug-of-war tension.
But it still serves as a showcase for Feist’s voice as she continues to embrace all the possibilities in that elastic instrument, twisting and manipulating it to pull her songs into new dimensions. Her voice is tripled-tracked and digitally quivered on “Become The Earth”; opener “In Lightning” has her engaging in vocal acrobatics that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dirty Projectors song. Inspired by the live atmosphere they were set to accompany, these are what I imagine to be Feist’s version of campfire songs: participatory and flickering, they swell into choruses repeated with the weight of incantations, then become slippery and soft as Feist lets her voice wander across notes and dissipate into open air.
Many of these songs started out as lullabies that Feist would sing to her daughter, worked out in fits and starts in the rare quiet moments during the tumultuousness of early motherhood. They’re filled with musings about getting older, becoming more settled in your ways but hopefully not intransigent. Coming out of the pandemic, a lot had changed in Feist’s life. She adopted a child in 2019, was still experiencing life as a new mother when the world shut down. After a year of quarantining with her daughter and her father up in Canada, her father passed away.
She was thinking a lot about cycles — birth and death and renewal. She sings about being in “the underneath of my life,” she sings about what it’s like to feel the full weight of the decisions and mistakes you made along the way. “Everybody’s got their shit, but who’s got the guts to sit with it?” she asks on “Hiding Out In The Open.” She’s wistful about past romances (“We still struggle with the truth/ That sometimes we don’t get to/ Love who we are meant to”), she searches for meaning in routine: the trill of a bird that keeps landing outside her window, the act of taking all her rings off and then putting them back on.
It’s in those moments that Feist finds the power to continue, humbles herself at the unknowability of life and hopes that it will all clarify into something worthwhile. She finds comfort in the idea that all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again, that our struggles are not unique — she places herself amongst familiars on “Of Womankind,” quotes The Odyssey and wonders about her ancestors on “Calling Of The Gods.” Feist is documenting a singular story, but one that can resonate with anyone who hears it. There are no easy answers on Feist’s songs, only ideas worth mulling over. “[Songwriting] is not a place to put the solutions,” Feist said in a recent interview. “It’s a way to phrase a question so I can keep learning what the answer might be.” Her open-ended songs are not necessarily urgent, but they are certainly compelling enough to stand the test of time.
Multitudes is out 4/14 via Interscope.
Other albums of note coming out this week:
• Metallica’s 72 Seasons
• Black Thought & El Michels Affair’s Glorious Game
• The Tallest Man On Earth’s Henry St.
• Jesus Piece’s …So Unknown
• Xylouris White’s The Forest In Me
• Fenne Lily’s Big Picture
• Fruit Bats’ A River Running To Your Heart
• Poison Ruïn’s Härvest
• Frost Children’s SPEED RUN
• Initiate’s Cerebral Circus
• Natalie Merchant’s Keep Your Courage
• Bodywash’s I Held The Shape While I Could
• Shannon Lay’s Covers Vol. 1
• Sweet Dreams Nadine’s Sweet Dreams Nadine
• Petite Noir’s MotherFather
• OZMOTIC & Fennesz’s S e n z a t e m p o
• Kicksie’s Slouch
• Ann-Margret’s Born To Be Wild
• Kara Jackson’s Why Does The Earth Give Us People To Love?
• Temples’ Exotico
• Dave Okumu & The 7 Generations’ I Came From Love
• Kid Koala’s Creatures Of The Late Afternoon
• Patten’s Mirage FM
• GoGo Penguin’s Everything Is Going To Be OK
• John Vanderslice’s CRYSTALS 3.0
• Life In Vacuum’s Lost
• Overkill’s Scorched
• Grandbrothers’ Late Reflections
• Jonathan Bree’s Pre-Code Hollywood
• Natural Information Society’s Since Time Is Gravity
• Elijah Kessler’s LIGHTSPEED
• Nicole Yun’s Matter
• Cindy’s Why Not Now?
• Ther’s a horrid whisper echoes in a palace of endless joy
• Robert Earl Keen’s Western Chill
• Pynch’s Howling At A Concrete Moon
• Atreyu’s The Hope Of A Spark
• Deathgrave’s It’s Only Midnight
• defprez’s It’s Always A Time Like This
• JaRon Marshall + the collective’s earth sounds
• The Hidden Cameras’s The Smell Of Our Own (20th Anniversary Edition)
• Adam Green’s Garfield (Deluxe)
• Shygirl’s Nymph_o deluxe edition
• Neil Young With The Santa Monica Flyers’s Somewhere Under The Rainbow live album
• The Ducks’s High Flyin’ live album
• Angel Olsen’s Forever Means EP
• Hippo Campus’ Wasteland EP
• Patrick Wolf’s The Night Safari EP
• Derek Sanders’s The Heavy Box EP
• Enny’s We Go Again EP
• Sam MacPherson’s Powerlines EP
• Minor ‘Love’s Minor ‘Love EP