Leslie Feist has made her entire career off of creating profoundly beautiful music from subtle and unforced moments. Whether it was the stripped-down pop of The Reminder, or the brooding, rhythmic Metals, she’s shown the unparalleled ability to let her songs breathe. Her restraint in not giving in to the temptation to over-edit or over-layer her work is even more remarkable in our era, which is so often chastised for turning everything up to 11, overwhelming the listener into submission with noise. Pitchfork writer Ryan Dombal sums this up in his original review of The Reminder, and his description of Feist’s methodology can be applied to her catalog as a whole: “fleeting touches from horns, glockenspiels, makeshift choirs, and other subtle accoutrements never announce themselves ostentatiously. Instead, [she] relies on a modest refinement that breaks with current singer-songwriter trends that promote infinite ambition in lieu of the basics-- melody, arrangement, feeling.”

On her latest album, Pleasure, we see Feist doubling down on this penchant for stripping back her music to the most basic elements. The album’s stark minimalism compliments the overall theme of the album, which she calls “a study of self-awareness” on ageing. But this isn’t a despondent record. In fact, Pleasure is remarkably optimistic, as Feist realizes that growing older also gives her both the freedom and the wisdom to live better than before. This uplifting feeling permeates the album, her most intimate to date, even in its saddest of moments.

Unfortunately, the overall impact of these realizations fall somewhat flat on Pleasure. Whereas before Feist was able to harness her dynamic voice and her instinct for melody to create understated-yet-memorable records, this album feels like a collection of unfinished sketches. When listening to this record, you often get the feeling that Feist viewed any opportunity to hook the audience in with an interesting climax or even a strong melody with suspicion, throwing out anything that could be deemed immediately accessible.

And yes, this is kind of the point of the project—a warts-and-all lo-fi album designed to completely put herself on display. But her past work was so emotionally moving precisely because of her ability to use the slightest bit of ornamentation to hit the listener at her core. In doing so, the results were never forced and they certainly never overshadowed the emotional resonance of her lyrics. So it’s confusing why she felt the need to strip away so much of what made her music great in the first place; it’s as if she saw in her previous work a problem that wasn’t actually there.

Not that there aren’t nice moments on here: the gorgeous closer, ‘Young Up’; the majestic ‘Get Not High, Get Not Low’, one of the few songs that has an actual groove on the entire album; and ‘Century’, the closest song on the album to the indie pop of The Reminder, are all great. But, for the most part, the songs aimlessly drift from one song to the next. And this is the problem with the album in general. Whereas great albums can make individual songs shine in the context that they’re presented—think of how the sequencing of a tracklist can make or break an album—a bland, monotonous album can take what might be interesting songs on their own and make them forgettable. That’s exactly what happens on Pleasure —many of the songs would probably work better on fully fleshed-out albums, but here things are so stripped-down and plodding as to become almost unbearable. It’s a shame because many of the songs on their own are kind of charming in their own right. Unfortunately, the album ends up being a whole that is less than the sum of its parts, making no real impact on the listener as it quietly meanders along.