|The Mover||Alex Puddu / Alex Puddu Soultiger|
|Soultiger||Alex Puddu / Alex Puddu Soultiger|
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.
Compared to the nocturnal New York cool of the Strokes, Albert Hammond, Jr.'s solo album Yours to Keep is a sunny California afternoon. It's not quite as radical a departure as, say, James Iha's solo album Let It Come Down was from his work with the Smashing Pumpkins, but Hammond's endearing pop miniatures have their own identity without feeling too self-consciously different from the Strokes. Even the songs that were adapted from his music for the Strokes' fan club tour DVD, like the chugging "In Transit," aren't as hard-edged as his day job's music, and Hammond's sweet, unaffected voice gives lyrics like "Everyone Gets a Star"'s "I know it gets so confusing/Sometimes it all seems to drag me down" a much different feel than they would coming out of Julian Casablancas' world-weary mouth. Actually, two of the most notable influences on Yours to Keep are the Beach Boys and Buddy Holly, artists both far removed in time and sound from the Strokes and the main inspirations on their music. The opening track "Cartoon Music for Superheroes" sounds like a lullaby version of Brian Wilson and company's take on "The Sloop John B." and "Holiday" rhymes "Jamaica" and "take ya," conjuring up "Kokomo." The affectionate covers of Holly's "Well...All Right" and Guided by Voices' "Postal Blowfish" which appear on the U.S. version of the album, give further insight into its friendly, unpretentious vibe and immediate melodies.
Yours to Keep's eclectic feel adds to its unassuming charm, with whimsical tracks like "Call an Ambulance" and the folky "Blue Skies" sounding natural but not predictable next to "101" and "Bright Young Thing," which both have surprisingly bittersweet passages that come on like sudden rain showers. And while most of the album's songs are to the point -- which only adds to their appeal -- "Hard to Live in the City"'s lengthy, brassy coda makes it feel like an impromptu party breaks out at the end of the song. A small-scale project with big results, Yours to Keep is a very enjoyable musical sketchbook. In its own concise, unassuming way, it could even charm those who aren't fans of the Strokes.