Feist — “Bittersweet Melodies” (from Metals) — Bittersweet Melodies - Metals

Florence + the Machine — “Shake It Out” (from Ceremonials) — Shake It Out - Ceremonials (Deluxe Version)

Well isn’t this a fascinating study in the stark contrast of musical styles (and, apparently, of creative and commercial ambitions): the pop world has been waiting with bated breath to see how Leslie Feist and Florence Welch — two of the most lauded breakout acts of the past half-decade — would choose to follow up their first tastes of massive success. (Helped along by the catchy-as-crap left-field radio smash “1 2 3 4,” Feist burst onto the scene in the summer of 2007 with The Reminder, which was actually her third studio album but which might as well have been a debut, so radically did it reboot what she had been trying to accomplish as an artist theretofore; and Welch broke through with her British band’s first record, Lungs, last summer, riding a wave of buzz with their single, “Dog Days Are Over.”) And the approaches these women employ this time at bat couldn’t be more dissimilar: on the barren (and, at times, painfully precious) Metals, Feist by and large turns inward, punching up the inherently idiosyncratic nature of her work but abandoning — to the album’s devastating detriment, I’m afraid — the lovely lightheartedness that made Reminder such a fun, rollicking romp. Welch and her machine, meantime, are clearly hunting bigger game with their lushly riveting second act, tinkering more broadly with reverb (and with their trademark atmospherics) and making a leap toward mainstream commercial viability — all the while maintaining the integrity of the band’s firmly established sound and ethos — that is every bit as ingenious and jaw-dropping as was Coldplay’s sophomore record a decade ago. Methinks the comparison is hardly inapt: Welch and the ‘Play’s frontman, Chris Martin, are each lucky, on their best days, to hit a two on the charisma meter, but stick either of them directly behind a microphone and sparks tend to fly. I’d say the big difference between them is that, whereas Martin’s inescapable timidity as a vocalist impels the rest of his band (and, lord love a duck, his producer) to really step up their respective games, Welch’s ballsy, brilliantly acrobatic voice is clearly the star of her show, and she seems not at all afraid to tumble, twist, and turn it any which way in the process of commanding your attention. Easily one of the year’s best, boldest singles, the soaring, stunning “Shake” seems destined to be remembered as lovingly as we now remember “Clocks”: as the moment a good band, as a collective one, hit the next level and turned its aim toward great.

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