Whether working on her own recordings or with friends like Peaches, Chilly Gonzales, or Broken Social Scene, Leslie Feist has always been more of a serial collaborator than a solo artist who likes to keep it solo. That’s one reason why the stripped-down sound of her fifth album, Pleasure—the Canadian chanteuse’s first in six years—is so striking.
Recorded in rooms in Paris, California, and upstate New York, her performances are as raw and unadorned as any she’s recorded, with her usual crew of helpers pruned down to producer Renaud Letang and longtime musical foil Mocky. That said, some friends did stop by to add a few touches, like the sprinkling of keys from Gonzales and horns from Arcade Fire collaborator Colin Stetson. She also enlisted Jarvis Cocker to deliver a cameo at the close of “Century”—reminiscent of Vincent Price’s voice-over in “Thriller”—one of the most unbridled songs on the new album, after the libidinous, PJ Harvey-channeling title track.
So maybe Pleasure isn’t such a lonesome experience after all, though its starkness still marks a bold shift from the chic sheen of 2007’s The Reminder and the stormy swells of 2011’s Metals. More intimate recordings from her early days, both with and without pals, point the way to Pleasure, as do other pieces by singers she loves and by equally gifted peers who’ve left their traces on her work.
And lest Pleasure seem like “one of those endless dark nights of the soul,” as Cocker quips in “Century,” the new album still contains many cheeky gestures, including her occasional dives into Pulp-worthy theatrics and her use of a Mastodon sample at the end of “A Man Is Not His Song” (after the release of Metals, she formed a mutual admiration with the Atlanta band and covered their “Black Tongue” on a split single for Record Store Day). Thanks to Feist’s ability to seamlessly integrate these many elements while maintaining a spare aesthetic, the pleasures of Pleasure are nothing if not the sophisticated kind we’ve come to expect.