The Internet hasn't been activated in my new house yet, which means that I'm writing this while sitting in a Starbucks. In the hours since I arrived at the store, the P.A. system has been cranking out a steady stream of 1980s hits alongside some selections from Feist's newly released album, Metals.
The fact that Leslie Feist is the only contemporary artist currently in rotation at this particular Starbucks confirms her status as the unofficial queen of the coffee shop crowd. Since exploding into the mainstream with her 2007 album The Reminder (and its ubiquitous, iPod-shilling single "1234"), the Toronto-based songstress has masterfully bridged the divide between indie cred and adult contemporary uncool. Soccer moms and yoga enthusiasts happily file Feist in their CD collections between E for Enya and G for Kenny G, while ultra-hip websites like Pitchfork and Stereogum dole out thumbs-up reviews.
The fact that Feist is able to unite such opposing sides of the music world is a testament to her charming everywoman appeal and undeniable knack for timeless pop hooks. This talent is on full display on Metals, which includes no shortage of tastefully low-key arrangements and pleasant melodies. This much is clear from the gorgeously lilting opener, "The Bad in Each Other," a poignant portrait of a failing relationship that is given an added sense of emotional heft thanks to its scratchy blues licks and blaring baritone sax.
Despite its instantly-accessible allure, Metals is a more challenging and adventurous album than The Reminder. This isn't because it is experimental or boundary-pushing, but mostly because it doesn't include any material nearly as ebullient or world-conqueringly catchy as "1234." The most memorable hooks here are nestled within stylistic turns that are unlikely to inspire intricately choreographed dance routines: "Graveyard" could have been a singalong if its jazzy grooves were replaced with some rock 'n roll muscle, while the folksy slow-burner "Comfort Me" begins with two minutes of barely-there balladry before it swells to a stomping, infectious climax.
Okay, so songs like these -- and other standouts like the slinky "How Come You Never Go There?" and the fluttering "The Circle Married the Line" -- probably won't become the next iPod anthem, but they're sure to please Feist's fans. They're sweet, tuneful, and inoffensive to the extreme.
In other words, this is Starbucks music through and through. It's what you turn to when you need an experience that's rarely remarkable but always familiar. When Feist plays at the Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver on Friday, Nov. 18, don't expect the show to include any radical curveballs or weirdo stylistic detours. Much like a trip to the world's largest coffee chain, you pretty much know what you're going to get. Feist will play her songs and she'll play them damn well.
And as much as I love the quirky corner cafe, there's nothing wrong with a little Starbucks now and again. After all, I've been leeching off their wireless signal this entire time and they haven't even pressured me to buy anything.
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