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Despite achieving very respectable critical success with her last album and garnering huge popularity for being a constant pillar in super-group Broken Social Scene, Leslie Feist has always maintained relative anonymity.
That’s probably because she hasn’t had that one big push. The Canadian's occasional appearances in the mainstream light haven’t exactly been conventional. Her 2007 single ‘1234’ was used to launch a new line of iPod Nanos, was performed on Sesame Street in a segment to help children to learn how to count and was generally ranked as one of the best songs of the year – it was only bettered by Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ in Time Magazine. The most peculiar Feist-related story has to be the bust-up between Shia Labeouf and Michael Bay on the set of Transformers 3. Bay didn’t take too kindly to Labeouf’s insistence on playing Feist’s ‘Brandy Alexander’ out loud to prepare for a particularly emotional scene.
‘The Bad of Each Other’ opens Metals with the big clappy beats and saxophone hooks that gave edge to so many of her other songs. It’s followed by another familiar sound; the soft wavy quavers of her voice in ‘Graveyard’ and the climax of choir backing in the chorus is vintage Feist.
Her voice takes centre stage again in the sombre ballad ‘Caught a Long Wind’. ‘How Come You Never Go There?’ has an r&b edge, while ‘A Commotion’ comes a little out of leftfield. Without ever abandoning the elegance and sophistication of the preceding songs, it sounds like a grand cabaret-musical number that explodes with male vocal chants in the chorus.
‘The Circled Married the Line’ and ‘Bittersweet Melodies’ are floaty numbers, and are followed by ‘Anti-Pioneer,’ which sets scenes of a dark smoky bar with its deep base and sporadic but perfectly timed guitar plucks. ‘The Undiscovered First’ is driven by rusty guitars and tambourines, and ‘Cicadas and Gulls’ is a stripped-down acoustic song that is every bit as intricate in its lyrics as it is in the guitar-play: ‘Maps can be posed/ With you on your own/ And distance is brail/ And all it entails’.
‘Comfort Me’ is executed in a similar vein, bar the big sing-along lighter-swaying finale, and ‘Get it Wrong, Get it Right’ is the perfect chilled wind-down to the album. Like the imagery of nature she uses, the lyrics are simple but warming.
Consider this a new step for Feist. With every album, her sound has matured in every sense; mostly so in her writing. Feist’s lyrics have gone from romantic ideals to wise proverbs. Fans of light and bouncy songs like ‘Mushaboom’ from 2004’s Let it Die and ‘My Moon, My Man’ from 2007’s The Reminder may find it hard to wrap their heads around a style and tone that only occasionally made appearances on her previous albums. If anything, the success of Metals will come just as much from its draw of new fans.
Album opener ‘San Angeles’ will get feet moving and booties shaking, but the rest of the album is decidedly more post-rock oriented. The influences of Pink Floyd only really make a grand appearance on psychedelic tune ‘Lunar Drift’, with its spooky synths and echoing bass line.
‘The Eliminator’ takes the listener back to the eighties again, as the repetitive electronic beat that is used sounds a lot like the 8-bit sounds that were the backdrop for many early eighties video games. Imagine the aforementioned desert wasteland turning 8-bit coloured.
The eighties also dominate in the strummed intro to ‘Martin Rev’, evoking memories of Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. You’d almost think the guys of Maserati had wished they were making music a few decades ago.
Last year, Cairo 360 gave Cults’ self-titled debut album a well-deserved four-star stamp of approval. Prior to the release, the Manhattan twosome, Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, had carved out somewhat of a cult following – pun intended – on New York’s underground scene, before being snapped up by Lily Allen’s record label, In the Name Of.
Over a year later, Follin and Oblivion’s unique brand of indie-pop has taken the form of follow-up LP, Static. The album kicks-off in familiar fashion with 112 second-long intro, ‘I Know’; hazy guitar strums and almost celestial vocals pick up right where fans want it to.
From there on in, Cults get kitschy with several genres; ‘I Can Hardly Make You Mine’ borrows the garage-rock sounds of the 70s, while ‘Always Forever’ is one of several tracks that hark back to the girl groups of the 60s.
Though it all makes for an affable cocktail of sounds, Static is just that; it’s an album by a band that has ventured only footsteps away from what was already a derivative sound. Instrumentally, there’s plenty of variety; but the majority of the tracks build similarly – occasionally into dead-ends.
All evidence then suggests that in order for Cults to take that next step, they need the help of a top producer – maybe even someone as obvious as Mark Ronson.
The album’s saving grace is the vocal work; an indie boy’s dream, Follin just plain gets it – ‘it’ being her role as the face and voice of a hipster-inclined couple who succeed in recovering yesteryear’s sounds and packaging it up in a perfectly neat little package. She sings with a reserved passion, delivering the sentiments of the lyrics in every note.
Said sentiments lean more towards the shoegaze-style gloom of tracks like piano-driven closer, ‘No Hope’, than in their previous album, but there’s still a bouncy and optimistic undercurrent that, even in the album’s more melancholic moments, brings the whole record together.
Everything about Cults is likeable; but they’re still green and will remain so until the dreaded album number three. Their debut album peaked at 52 on US charts, and 133 on UK charts, and this is not an album that will break that – nor is it likely to gain Cults new fans.