With Metals, Feist responds to the surprise success of 2007’s The Reminder with a whisper, not a bang. She treads lightly through a series of disjointed torch songs and smoky pop/rock numbers, singing most of the songs in a soft, gauzy alto, as though she’s afraid of waking some sort of slumbering beast. Whenever the tempo picks up, so does Feist’s desire to keep things weird, with songs like “A Commotion” pitting pizzicato strings against a half-chanted, half-shouted refrain performed by an army of male singers. But Metals does its best work at a slower speed, where Feist can stretch her vocals across fingerplucked guitar arpeggios and piano chords like cotton. “Cicadas and Gulls,” with its simple melodies and pastoral ambience, rides the same summer breeze as Iron & Wine, and “Anti-Pioneer” breaks down the blues into its sparsest parts, retaining little more than a sparse drumbeat and guitar until the second half, where strings briefly swoon into the picture like an Ennio Morricone movie soundtrack. They’re gone after 30 seconds, though, leaving things as quiet as they began. Like the rest of the subdued track list, “Anti-Pioneer” is unlikely to find itself featured in an iPod commercial, meaning Feist’s days as a provider of hip, trendy TV jingles may be over. Still, there’s a soft-spoken power to Metals, even if its songs are more liquid and atmospheric than the title suggests.
The third album by tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen's working trio with bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston is the shortest and most compressed one yet. He's a player given to concision; the majority of pieces on 2008's I Am I Am and 2009's Shine! were in the three- to four-minute range, but pieces on Victory! frequently come in well shy of the three-minute mark. He says what he's got to say, allows his bandmates (particularly Royston) to assert themselves, and then it's over. Intensity and focus are here, but almost no self-indulgence. This is surprising enough, but it becomes even more so when one reflects on how much Allen's tone and even his phrasing on the horn recall John Coltrane circa 1964. Many of the ideas heard here seem like variations on ones explored on classic Coltrane discs like Crescent and The John Coltrane Quartet Plays. That's not to suggest that Allen isn't a unique and compelling voice, because he absolutely is. But he's working within a tradition and making no bones about it. Anyone looking for a modern, relatively young (Allen was born in 1972) mainstream tenor player to champion would do well to check out everything the J.D. Allen Trio releases.