At the end of 2019, upon finishing her Bon Iver tour support, Leslie Feist received the news that the baby girl she was adopting had been born. In the spring of 2021, the miracle of life presented by a newborn was met by its opposite end when Feist’s father, Harold, passed away.
It’s this circle of life that both haunts and uplifts the Canadian singer’s latest album. In fact, even in its title, there’s a sense of the deep weight of it all, of the multitudes of everything. Following the opener ‘In Lightning’ – a jagged, Björk-like affair – we’re hit with the contemplative ‘Forever Before’, a track which feels the most like someone mourning.
That’s not to say it’s heavy; far from it. Feist tells us, “I’ve never begun a forever before / Been using up life like I knew I had more,” and asks, “What’s gotta end / For forever to begin?” over a trickling of acoustic guitar – a light counterbalance to the track’s weight rub.
Much of Multitudes follows suit, with ‘The Redwing’ even stating as much via the refrain: “The endless weight of my life / Can be lifted up like wings”. These are tracks designed for the existentialist who desires sweet, momentary respite; tracks to listen to as you find some river bank to lay your head down and rest, thinking about it all.
‘Martyr Moves’ breaks down the illusion of time, whiling away a life as Feist counts from “Three months / Nine months / Three years / Six years / Twelve years / Twenty years / Forty years / Eighty years”, her mouth so close to the mic you can almost hear the touch of her lips. ‘Hiding Out In The Open’, meanwhile, consoles the romantics among us with the wise line, “Love is not a thing you try to do / It wants to be the thing compelling you”.
The album isn’t all just birdsong, however. Billie Marten’s Cherry Drop album from last week was an example of turning simply to the natural world to express our own human feelings of love. Yet whilst Multitudes follows suit at times, every so often it adds an otherworldly brilliance. Just as its album cover bears a degree of ambiguity, so too is there a rumbling sense that Feist can take off in any direction.
‘I Took All Of My Rings Off’ begins like many a soft, acoustic number, but for a veneer that builds into distorted echoes, rounding off into somewhere that borders on sci-fi. ‘Calling All The Gods’ sounds as though it’s on a genuine mission of its title, signalling up to the heavens as Feist sings with herself in the round.
‘Borrow Trouble’ is the album’s best, though, once again, because of the added strangeness it tacks onto the album as a whole. The screaming of ‘Trouble’ is as cathartic as anything I’ve heard in a while, as though Feist is standing back from the mic this time, breaking any pretence in recording anything professionally and letting it all out – the death of her father, the stress of motherhood, the tribulations of being an artist.
Some may not be too familiar with Feist, but for her momentarily ubiquitous, iPod Nano-selling tune ‘1234’. That song had become a hit (and, in fact, remains the singer’s only tune to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Top 40) precisely because of its simplicity.
Multitudes is a deep, touching body of work, which works because whilst its themes are about as profound as you can go, its light acoustic touch glides you through them, with the occasional moment of unpredictability to wake you from any slumber.