St. Vincent - St. Vincent

St. Vincent has delivered her fourth album loaded with cantankerous yet tamed noises, fictitious honesty, and pleasurable dissonance.

Additional Info

9.1

ALBUM: St. Vincent

ARTIST: St. Vincent

2014

Alternative

With three albums under her belt and years of musical experience, St. Vincent, otherwise known as Annie Clark, has delivered her fourth album loaded with cantankerous yet tamed noises, fictitious honesty, and pleasurable dissonance. St. Vincent is arguably one of Clark’s best works with her own invention of crippled pop that catches the ear and strangles one’s infatuation. But by the history of her work St. Vincent’s self-titled album is of no surprise to familiar listeners. Lots of inspiration of sound seems to have come from her last album constructed with David Byrne of The Talking Heads, Love This Giant- from brassy, unconventional noise on “Digital Witness” to chaotic jam band on “Birth In Reverse.” She is not shy in any aspect of her music whether boasting in sound manipulation or honesty as well as realism lyrically. Within in these two ruthless artistic aspects, Clark exemplifies her true genius in order progress her music past her more subdued last album Strange Mercy into a raunchy and violent dimension that still occupies a sound solely expressive of St. Vincent.

St. Vincent is peculiar in subject especially in songs such as “Rattlesnake” and “Huey Newton” but what makes them genuine and even more exciting than their questionable content at first glance is that they are personal experiences turned into a whacked out musical experience. This is comforting in that it displays that Clark is not just writing down some artistic bullshit in order to sound over inspired, but that she is injecting her brilliance for lyrics into irregular life experiences that make the listener think. “Rattlesnake (don’t think too hard) is actually about an encounter with the venomous creature while Clark was becoming sensual with nature one day in the Texas desert. While this track seems to hold more of an obvious answer for subject matter, “Huey Newton” is not as easy to pin. It is unlikely for Clark to have an encounter with the deceased Black Panther Party founder, right? Well, with a bit of help from some sedatives gone hallucinogenic, Clark turned her trippy occurrence into a track about mendacity of the Internet and reality. Several other tracks on the self-titled album seem to display the occurring concept of destruction of humanity through obsession with Internet interactions.

Many other interesting subjects cluster the album such death and dying, fear of not being success at one’s passion, fear of losing a friend, and even the hatred of hospitals. Clark not only dives into the weird and unconventional but the personal and the terrifying. Hidden behind the heavy mechanical noises and the unexplainable bashing of hazy guitars is the sincere and internal struggles that Clark places before the listener like leaving her heart on her sleeve. She places it before the listener in her own vision of metaphors and comparisons that make the subject matter not seem too accessible to the point of unoriginality. The beautiful “ I Prefer Your Love” is fragile and quirky in that Clark does not out rightly say her mother’s love was the only one that brought her comfort and that she is upset she has to watch her mother suffer illness. She compares her to one of the biggest religious figures and is discrete about the literal subject matter with lines like “name tagged tourist,” implying about patients in hospitals with wristbands carrying their name. Her subtly and passion in her voice should be admired. Her genius should be applauded.

Another aspect from St. Vincent that should not be under looked is the relation of the tone of the sound to the mood of the lyrics. With such dark themes being tossed around one would think that this album would not be fun for one to work out with or to dance to. Wrong. The juxtaposition between content and rhythm is of large portion. Most of the jams involve distorted facets of pop with experimental twists. However, just because Clark tends to be swaying towards more eccentric pop does not make the music inaccessible. “Regret,” “Rattlesnake,” “Birth in Reverse,” and even “Severed Crossed Fingers,” contain happy or danceable undertones. Maybe smiling about death is not what Clark is going for, although it could be, the album’s ability to be aware of its fears and weaknesses is something the listener should come to appreciate. Do not look at things we cannot control in life as automatic liabilities.

Clark’s ability to conjure multiple feelings and sensations, to raise questions about reality and the generation society is living in now is invigorating and stimulating. St. Vincent’s ability to strike up intellectual chaos in her self-titled album is an accomplishment. The album holds great energy as well as production that give some of the songs power to become classics. The questioning of a digital age through digital media is brilliant in that St. Vincent is questioning not only the external world, but herself as well while still staying true to her art.

"I try to live at the intersection of accessible and lunatic.”

1. Rattlesnake
St. Vincent is off to a brilliant fuzz pop beginning as her vocals blend in with the grimy beat that sounds like a late nineties pop track, possibly of Madonna. The melody is extremely simple, but pure in its attractive quirkiness. The metallic synths send a burst of electricity through the track that meshes nicely with Clark’s “Ah ah ah ah ah ah Ahh Ahh.” With unexpected bumps of beachy electric guitar over the chorus and the signature buzz of Clark’s guitar solo that has dominated songs such as “Marrow” in her past, this opening song holds great energy and curious vibes. Clark’s style is not necessarily conventional or the norm of pop music, but it will definitely get one dancing or bobbing his or her head. Her intelligence lyrically is also highlighted well on this track with lines like, “I see the snake holes dotted in the sand/ as if Seurat painted the Rio Grande.” The subtle drop of the French post-impressionist painter used as a metaphor to describe her imagery is brilliant. The track also carries a tone of desperation as the heaviness of Clark’s breathes progress throughout the song and the energy of the track might boarder on terrifying with lyrics like, “Sweating, sweating no wind whipping behind me/ sweating, sweating no one will find me,” and “Am I the only one in the world?” It is quite unclear at this point where Clark’s head is at and what journey this album will take the listener on, but after this opening track one is enchanted to find out.9.5
2. Birth In Reverse
Being the first single that was released from this album, it is hard not to see the voltage and vivacious current that erupts throughout the song. Starting with a mechanical and robotic intro that develops into the blending of two electric guitars creates a saxophone like heaviness along with sound that reflects Clark’s work with David Byrne. The beat is relentless like a toddler on a sugar rush waiting to tear the city down. The verse melody erupts into the chorus that holds an even louder fuzziness. The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s like bass hook in between the chorus and verse is great with the soulful energy and clarity that it delivers. This track is a good example of how Clark’s songs have this chaotic and dysfunctional sound, but some how an anarchic harmony erupts throughout it all; it’s like controlled madness. And it is simply genius. Now turning toward the lyrical portion of the song, the track’s content is just as whimsical as its sound. “Oh what an ordinary day,” the track opens with, “take the garbage, masturbate/ I’m still holding for the laugh/ the dogs will bark so let them bark/ the birds will cry I’ll let them cry,” continues Clark in her lackadaisical tone that emotes slight humor through its odd nature. Engaging in life with a ‘why does it matter anyway’ type attitude while also commenting on society with the line, “On the cosmic eternity party line/ Was a birth in reverse America.” St. Vincent’s ability to use comic relief in chaos is brilliant, along with this track.9.5
3. Prince Johnny
This track takes a slower and more laid back approach compared to the previous tracks with the simpler momentum. The angelic chorus that backs Clark’s vocals mixed with the low thumping bass and the short electric drums create this mellow atmosphere. The atmosphere seems to hold reminiscence of a Caribbean vibe with the bluesy fuzz guitar. Its simplicity is tender and comforting with its softness reassuring a breather from the chaos that lay before it. Clark’s coos are magnificent and charming. The ghostly ballad discusses a poetic character description that draws curiosity with the Pinocchio allusions and royalty references. It’s the first slow track on the album but even with its decline in tempo does not mean St. Vincent has lost any creative momentum.9.0
4. Huey Newton
The rubbery and whiny synths that open the track over the military drumbeat are very simple for the production of the song. Clark adds little embellishments here and there, but the production of the song is not complex until the peculiar wonky synth solo mid song that leads into a heavy fuzz guitar riff, changing the entire dynamic of the song. The first half of the track sounds simple and ordinary until transitioning into a sinister, almost angry tone. The ability for the track to make a one-eighty in sound without sounding unnecessary is a brilliant accomplishment that St. Vincent masters with every beat. The content of the song is harder to grasp with its eccentric nature. The song is named after one of the founding members of the Black Panther Party, however this track has nothing to do with civil rights. Huey Newton inspired the track after an Ambien trip where Clark hallucinated having a “heart to heart” with this important figure in history. Besides the intriguing back-story that holds no literal relevancy to the track, the song also contains melancholic content about the World Wide Web. The song contains lyrical gold with lines like, “pleasure dot loathing dot Huey dot Newton,” which refers to the dots used in web addresses, “feelings flashcards,” which refers to the idea that the internet is disrupting the human ability to feel emotions instinctually since we all rely on technology so much “entombed in the shrine of zeros and ones,” which refers to the binary code and the virtual grave that is dug through our connection to the web once we die. The song captures in multiple ways the concept of the virtual hijacking of humanity where we are slowly deteriorating from reality with such a heavy reliance on the electronic world.8.5
5. Digital Witness
The sound of the track is reminiscent of the album St. Vincent did with David Byrne, Love This Giant with the bursting brass tones and reckless entropy. The production is perfection with the fuzzy disarray that fills the track along with the soulful guitar bits. The concept of the song is one that has already been introduced on the album, however on “Digital Witness,” its much more ostensible. The title alone may hint at the disgust or disinterest Clark feels for the Internet. “Get back to your seats/ get back gnashing teeth/ I want all of your mind,” the track opens up with these lyrics as Clark references the authoritative clutch the internet has on the minds of us, turning humans into zombie creatures on the search for mind-numbing glory. She then continues with, "people turn the tv on it looks just like a window,” with reference to the reality kidnapping that occurs from societies ability to trade the real and tangible for the digital. The question of whether life is even life anymore or are we even human anymore if we rely solely on machines, something we created, is put on the line. “Digital witnesses. What’s the point of even sleeping/ if I can’t show if you can’t see me/ what’s the point of doing anything,” Clark questions through the chorus whether life is even authentic anymore. Because of social media we rely on input from everyone with no sense of privacy or self-assurance. This track, aside from the great production and lyrical genius, asks many valid questions that are relevant within the digital age we are living in. This song is anthem for a generation.10.0
6. I Prefer Your Love
The most tender of tracks on St. Vincent, “I Prefer Your Love,” is a heart warming ballad written for Clark’s mother after she had fallen ill. The beat is slow and pulsating that moves consistently as Clark speaks of her admiration for her mom, fears of the future, and irritations of hospitals. Her vocals sound like something of a Beach House track. The rhythm has more of a nineties vibe. “I prefer you love to Jesus,” Clark sings with regards to her mother, as her love was more of solace than that of the religious figure. “Little baby on your knees cause the world has got you down,” could be a reference to either her mother enduring struggle thus she is reminded that she to can revert to infancy as she crawls through hard times, but it also could refer to Clark as she has to endure the pain along side her. The production of the track is not mind blowing and the chorus may be a little quirky, but Clark’s vocals are sincere and the track captures an important relation between two people: the unconditional love of mother and daughter. It is honest. It is pure.8.5
7. Regret
The melody of this track strays from some of the more signature sounding tracks on the album as well as the other ballads on St. Vincent. The disjointed and jittery beginning pair harmoniously with Clark’s passionless vocals as she discusses a hangover and a regrettable night towards the end of summer. The track’s transition into the airy and acoustic chorus makes for a nice contrast between the self-loathing and whimsical natures the track holds. “I’m afraid of heaven because I can’t stand the heights/I’m afraid of you because I can’t be left behind,” St. Vincent still manages to fit the witty and sardonic sub tones in there, along with implying towards a deeper issue of commitment or fear of the future. The real inventiveness lies in the erratic production and Clark’s flawless vocals that ooze ease and confidence.9.0
8. Bring Me Your Loves
Ruthless bee bops and squeals kick start the track with Clark’s voice chiming in shortly after. Her voice is distorted and robot like as if from a Sci-fi film. Her tone is powerful and authoritative with the electric melodies. Beachy guitar riffs accompany the track later as well as the signature fuzz guitar. Clark sounds like a banshee in some sections of the song creating a chaotic, ghostly atmosphere. The song has a hidden creepiness if one pays attention to the lyrics, “I thought you were a dog/ but then you made me your pet.” The controlling and possessive mood of the track with the chaos of production creates a hypnotic vortex of sound that traps the listener in complete confusion. The odd nature that Clark shows with her relation to her lover in this track contrasts against the next song “Psychopath” in an interesting way that leads the listener to question who Clark is as a beloved and what she thinks of the emotion. The track is undeniably curious, but its fanatical nature makes it a hard listener on the ear.8.0
9. Psychopath
Annie Clark’s bubblegum pop side tends to give an appearance on this track with the light “ahs” and bright synths; there seems to be no fuzz chaos in sight. In the chorus there are orchestral synths and an acoustic guitar that adds to the lighter sound the song projects. But before one can get too comfortable with the lightheartedness of the song, a distorted guitar chimes in with a brief solo and embellishments later on in the chorus. This track seems to be more flower power than anarchic digitalism. The difference in sound apart from other tracks gives the album a stimulating breather. The change in sound also is cohesive with its change in content. She talks of a conflict between a couple but since their love is strong their relationship will last in the lyrics, “You said, ‘honey quit your worrying, distance is exactly like a blowing wind putting out the tiny embers and flames and keeping the big ones burning,” and “keep me in your soft sights when the rest have moved on/ and I’ll keep you in my soft sights when the crowd has gone home.” A song about the power of love shows a more sensual side of St. Vincent.8.5
10. Every Tear Disappears
Another quirky track about the takeover of reality by the Internet. Clark discusses the absence of human emotions with the introduction of the virtual world. That these actions of expressing emotions are becoming empty gestures that give the illusion of our humanity: “oh a smile is more than showing teeth.” Also the lyrics, “I live on wire/ yeah I been born twice,” suggest the second life one lives through the Internet. The melodies are electric and mechanical, adding to the technological theme. The robotic guitar riff that’s the cornerstone of the song sounds a bit out of synch with the pan flute sample. Clark still delivers an original production with genuine lyric content; it is just not the best effort off the album.8.0
11. Severed Crossed Fingers
Clark chooses to end the album with a tearjerker as she spills her insecurities and faulty inflated hopes with this one. Discussing the problem of youth versus getting old and whether her perceived purpose in life is the wrong one, one can here the pain and distress within Clark’s voice as she sings, “when your calling ain’t calling back to you/ I’ll be side-stage mouthing lines to you/ humiliated by age, terrified of youth/ I got hope but my hope isn’t helping you.” The picture of “severed crossed fingers,” is also melancholic with the decimation of a hopeful gesture. The mood of the song is dejected as well with the church bells and medieval tones. Coupled with Clark’s vocals there seems to be a slight hint of Bowie as the singer strays towards a more anthem like quality of sound. This track is powerful in its content as well as soul Clark has put into it, which make it a strong closer to St. Vincent.
7.5
Written by Margaret Farrell
Margaret Farrell is a writer from outside Chicago. She is currently a student at New York University, studying journalism and creative writing.



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