Feist - Pleasure
Listening to Pleasure for the first time on a flight was the wrong call. Wedged between a couple who would rather sit apart from each other than endure the middle seat, I began Pleasure with the expectation that Leslie Feist’s arena-sized-anthems-cranked-down-to-a-5 song-style would offer the perfect mental abandonment from the loud, cramped trip flinging my body from Southern California to Nashville, Tennessee. Nope. What I ended up with was disappointment, discomfort, and then, some sleep invoked near the latter third of the album. One earbud swung back and forth between my knees as the other looped through my head for what I imagine would have been two-and-a-half listens at the point I awoke, head pressed against the seat in front of mine, lungs coated in recycled air – “no parties so sweet as our party of two”. I needed to try this again. On the drive home from Nashville I let Pleasure sink me into a stupor. It was slick but didn’t hold. While Feist’s music has never held full pop appeal (with the exception of that one song), her melodies did deceptively cling – you might catch yourself humming a tune and not quite realize where it came from. Pleasure is not as sticky.
I truly heard Pleasure while sitting in my home with only the sounds of rain pumping out the drain and some chatty upstairs neighbors for accompaniment. It became immediately clear that Leslie Feist has created a raw, subtle, slow-burning record that requires peaceful listening conditions to become immersed in. It is also an album built of polarities: Feist is as loud and harsh as she has ever been but fills the album with dead air; tracks are spare and simple but frequently employ experimental left-turns; the lyrics are conflicted but retain a plainly sensitive core. In the press release for Pleasure, Feist described the album as “an exploration into emotional limits”, encapsulating “loneliness, private ritual, secrets, shame, mounting pressures, disconnect, tenderness, rejection, care and lack thereof”. In the song “Get Not High, Get Not Low” we hear about “living in extremes” and the striking sonic contrasts become a logical expansion of this theme.
And the album does swing to and from these pillars, recalling the sentiment of The Reminder’s “I Feel It All”. Opener, title track, and first single “Pleasure” is a floodgate of poetic expression surrounding sexual desire and it’s circular biological function, while contrarily, closer “Young Up” plays like a sorrowful eulogy to a life lost long before death. The emotional intensity of Pleasure resembles the newfound helplessness and desires of a teenager, but with a matured expression. Take for example, “Century”, a pounding number that seems to speak directly to the bleeding hearts: “Someone who will lead you to someone who will lead you to someone who will lead you to the one at the end of the century”. The lyric would be saccharine if it weren’t a wide-angle perspective on love from someone who also appears caught in its throes and intricacies across the album.
One of the more gripping aspects of Pleasure is also what I missed during the cursory trips. Feist has contextualized these songs in a recording style that perfectly exemplifies the emotional state of the album – introducing a sense of place and nuance that goes much deeper than anything she has released in the past. Sure, many of the songs begin bare-bones, but later wander down these fascinating little sonic passages. On “Any Party”, Feist takes a southern-rock thumper from the studio, to a friend’s house party complete with drunken friends, and exits the track wandering outside into the street as the previously mentioned “Pleasure” blares through the speakers of a passing car. I hardly need to mention that the song is about the willingness to leave a party to be with the one you love. Then, “A Man Is Not His Song” speaks to the idealized presentation one can give in the early throes of love, only for it to become a ghost down the line. Initially an acoustic ballad, the song bursts into a chorus complete with choir to show that, despite these insincerities, “we all wanna sing along!” and believe that our lover’s promises will hold. Before we’re done, we’re treated to a multi-tracked, vocally manipulated Feist and…a Mastodon sample. So this is what we have become. Pleasure’s cut and paste song structure might seem illogical on paper, but Feist seems to have discovered that an effective left turn must be built from a foundation that nails the basics first and distorts second. This explains why the most minor of experimental devices captivate.
In today’s age of multitasking and background noise, it’s a challenging listen, but only to the extent that it asks you to give your attention over. To manage distractions. To engage with your emotions. And pleasure, as a feeling, is perhaps a bit of a dumb one. An entitlement all living creatures are allotted squeezed between anxieties, mundanities, and heartbreak. It’s a simple, biological function nestled into a society that seems to ask you to feel everything at once. Feist knows things are not quite so simple as 1234, and Pleasure is all the better for it.