St. Vincent – St. Vincent
by Mike Doub (Journalism/Psychology), published March 5th 2014
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Look at the person on that cover for a second. Would you believe that it’s the same musician who once toured with the palpably gleeful Polyphonic Spree collective, or who performed on Sufjan Stevens’ baroque opus Illinois? Would you even believe that it’s the same person as this? As it turns out, the woman sitting on the throne in that cover might be who St. Vincent, born Annie Clark, has been the whole time. In interviews leading up to the release of her self-titled fourth album, Clark has said the album title was inspired by a Miles Davis quote: that the hardest thing for a musician to do is sound like themselves. Clark claims that on this new record she finally sounds like herself.
Let’s count ourselves lucky that she does, because St. Vincent is Clark’s most assured, best record yet. Throughout it marries the ethereal otherness of her previous high-water mark, 2011’s Strange Mercy, to the rollicking fun of her David Byrne collaboration Love This Giant with great success. “Digital Witness” for example – a horn-driven number that finds Clark fretting about overexposure in social media – could easily be a cut from the latter album were it not for Clark’s sharp lyrical focus. Opener “Rattlesnake” tells a true story about Clark’s run-in with the titular reptile over a bouncing synth groove, and it comes closest to her vision of “making a party record you could play at a funeral.” That emphasis on dance produces many a hummable moment on St. Vincent, among them the syncopated vocal rhythm on “Psychopath” and the punchy chorus on “Digital Witness.” You’ll want to sing along on “Bring Me Your Loves” too, even if its layered repetition of the title phrase also leaves you scratching your head.
Of course it wouldn’t be a St. Vincent album without haunting ballads, and St. Vincent has some of Clark’s finest to date. Single “Prince Johnny” is a slow-burning love song where Clark takes charge in a relationship with an introspective coke-fiend, and it sounds fantastic. Later, “I Prefer Your Love” is a touching paean to Clark’s mother, whose love Clark prefers to (spoilers) Jesus, featuring some nice echolocating guitar reminiscent of U2’s The Edge as well. “Severed Crossed Fingers” triumphantly closes the album with a swaggering synth melody and the idea that, even when things seem their most dire, it’s worth hoping against hope. On an album where narrators see their spouses cheating through windows, lament relationships past and get chased by snakes, that notion ties a comforting bow.
Really I could just keep naming songs, because on St. Vincent there’s not a dud in the bunch. Clark’s an expert arranger, and her guitar-playing has never been better than it is here. First single “Birth in Reverse” is built on almost as much noodling as it is guitar lead, not to mention Clark’s take on Black Sabbath in the coda of “Huey Newton.” I guess I did just keep naming songs. At any rate St. Vincent is the moment when Clark stops being a cheerleader and becomes someone worthy of a stadium-size cheering section. She’s exploring what it means to be alive and in love in the digital age, and on this fourth outing Clark’s got 11 songs worthy of those weighty topics and then some. Not to mention that hair. I mean really, THAT HAIR.
Key tracks: “Rattlesnake,” “Huey Newton,” “Digital Witness”