St. Vincent | ARTIST
St. Vincent | ALBUM
Loma Vista / Republic | LABEL
25 February 2014 | RELEASE DATE
9.5 | 10
It’s hard to pin down Annie Clark. Once you think you know what to expect from her St. Vincent project, she goes ahead and does the complete opposite. After her breakthrough 2011 album Strange Mercy, Clark seemed destined for the bright lights. “Cruel” and “Cheerleader” were two of the best pop songs of that year, equally infectious and idiosyncratic. Her next project was her David Byrne collaborative album Love This Giant, which found Clark and Byrne attempting to out-weird each other, to mixed results. So when she released “Birth In Reverse” and “Digital Witness,” the first two teasers from her excellent new self-titled album, she appeared primed to carry the torch handled by The Talking Heads years ago. Like the rest of her career, though, those two songs tell only a fraction of a story, as St. Vincent is a complex, intricately produced record unlike anything else you’re likely to hear this year.
“Rattlesnake” opens the album with Clark quizzically asking, “Am I the only one / In the only world?” She’s searching for signs of life, but nothing comes close to matching her thrillingly vital sound. Paired with first single “Birth In Reverse,” the opening salvo of “Rattlesnake” and “Reverse” assuredly plants the listener in Clark’s world, where we can (and should) expect anything to happen. Clark doesn’t take this gift for granted, showing a graceful restraint in the process. She’s a chef with every ingredient at her disposal; and instead of throwing everything at us at once, she picks and chooses the right moments to hit us with her arsenal of tools.
Up until the release of St. Vincent, Clark’s eccentricities have kept her at arms length from her audience. That is, to a certain extent, still the case after listening to her fourth solo LP. But there are several moments on this self-titled release that find Clark more vulnerable and exposed than ever. One of several fantastic slow-burners, “I Prefer Your Love,” is, according to The Line of Best Fit’s Luke Britton, a dedication to Clark’s mother. It’s extremely personal without marginalizing its audience, an achievement only a deft songwriter such as Clark could obtain. “Regret” is a rather conventional indie-rocker, but the guitar riff is one of the most consistently gratifying musical moments throughout St. Vincent. And of course, just when you think the album’s back half will sail competently, safely, to a pleasurable ending, then comes “Bring Me Your Loves.” At first listen, the song is a bit of a mess. It’s without doubt the most left-field moment on St. Vincent, but the longer you stick with it, the more the melodies and disparate passages gel and form a concrete whole.
“When your calling / ain’t calling back to you / I’ll be side stage / Mouthing lines for you,” goes the beginning of the rousing finale “Severed Crossed Fingers.” Recorded in one vocal take, Clark sounds equally at peace and unsettled. Over one of the more sparse productions on the album, Clark delivers a remarkably composed vocal performance, highlighting not only her fantastic vocals but also her impeccable sense of melody. Those qualities aren’t always easy to showcase in tandem, but Clark’s conviction fully sells the emotion pouring out of the song.
In an interview with Laura Snapes, writing for NME, Clark admitted that her decision to make her fourth LP self-titled sprung from her writing these songs solely for herself. As great as her past work is, there was always a level of detachment, most likely a stylistic choice, but quite possibly also a result of her songwriting intentions being for the audience. When she sings “So I pray to all, all, all, all, all / To make me a real girl,” on song of the year contender “Prince Johnny,” there’s a real, living, breathing person laying bare for all to see. And that’s the case throughout St. Vincent. We’re finally starting to scratch the surface of what exactly St. Vincent can be. It’s bigger and better than anyone could ever imagine.