People might have gotten tired of the catchy song "1234" — which in 2007 could have been heard anywhere from an iPod commercial to Sesame Street. But by the end of the surprise whirlwind success of that song, singer Leslie Feist was tired, too. The Canadian singer, who before her solo career played with several bands including Broken Social Scene, achieved critical acclaim from her second album, 2004's Let it Die, a mix of originals and inspired covers. Stand-outs from the former category include "Mushaboom," a poppy paean to small-town life that's peppered with soft handclaps, and a sultry take on the Bee Gees "Inside and Out." But 2007's The Reminder thrust her into the mainstream, mostly because of the wild popularity of "1234" — which packs in handclaps, horn and piano flourishes, banjo strums and sing-along backup vocals, but sounds effortless — following its placement in the iPod ad. She sang a version of the song with Elmo for a Sesame Street counting lesson, and in a rare feat for indie artists, the song reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. That year, she earned four Grammy nominations.
But the touring and media blitz that came with success exhausted Feist and put her on the brink of a breakdown, leading to a two-year hiatus. In a 2011 New York Times profile, she commented on that time, saying "I was playing to bigger audiences than I had ever fathomed, and I had gone a little deaf, I mean emotionally deaf."
She returned with 2011's Metals, which perhaps inspired by that near-collapse, is quiet, introspective and at times foreboding. Recorded in a makeshift studio in Big Sur, Calif., the album expresses both the aching solitude and overwhelming beauty of such a setting. "The Circle Married the Line" speaks to this beauty: "Then I'll head out to horizon lines/ get some clarity ocean-side." Conversely, "Comfort Me" is an unsettling meditation on a relationship ("When you comfort me/doesn't bring me comfort actually") that turns almost angry with thudding percussion and shouty backup vocals. Unlike The Reminder, it's difficult to mine Metals for hits — you won't see any of its tracks pushing Apple products or inspiring a choreographed dance routine in a music video, as in the case of "1234" (there, Feist leads a pack of colorfully outfitted dancers/ad hoc backup singers while wearing a blue sequined jumpsuit). Metals isn't obvious; similar to a terrain like Big Sur, it's an album best appreciated upon repeated exploration.