Some of Leslie Feist’s fans will already be familiar with a few of the songs on her sixth album. In a reversal of the usual album-then-tour system, since summer 2021 the Canadan singer-songwriter has been performing concerts, also titled Multitudes, as residencies in theatres in Germany, Canada and the US.
Inspired by the enforced world-shrinking of the pandemic and designed by Rob Sinclair, who also worked on David Byrne’s extraordinary stage show American Utopia, they featured Feist performing in the round in some intimate spaces and working out some of the new material in real time.
She’s been louder in the past, especially on her stark, largely electric 2017 album Pleasure. She’s been poppier too – those unfamiliar with her name will certainly recognise her chirpy 2007 single 1234, which ended up on both an iPod advert and Sesame Street. This collection, in contrast, sounds mature and unhurried, with acoustic guitar dominating alongside her close, angelic voice.
She pulled out of supporting Arcade Fire on their arena tour last year in response to allegations of sexual misconduct by Arcade Fire singer Win Butler, which he denies. The delicate material on Multitudes feels unsuited to grand spaces anyway. Of the 12 songs here, only Borrow Trouble sounds truly big, with a wall of violins squalling over a mighty introduction. It’s a rare side-step into euphoria.
In Lightning also has energy in a different way, with its jerky digital drum patterns and chanted, layered vocals. Otherwise it sounds like it’s just you and her alone together, with ballads such as Love Who We Are Meant To and the particularly exquisite The Redwing delivered at close quarters, softly asking that the listener leans right in.
And it’s by listening closely that the album becomes much more than pleasant background music. Song for a Sad Friend adds an unexpected freeform keyboard line and then a blissful sigh of backing vocals as it draws to a finish. On Become the Earth the voices aren’t quite human, with electronically altered stutter and shimmer effects.
As those concerts proved, she’s now operating right beside her audience. “I’ll pretend not to hear/Until you whisper it in my ear/Ooh, hot voice on my neck,” she sings in a shiver-inducing passage on the intricately constructed Hiding Out in the Open. That’s really what this chance to sit quietly in her company feels like.