Review Summary: St. Vincent’s self-titled fourth album seethes with abnormalities and stands as Annie Clark’s most confident effort yet.
Fifteen seconds into St. Vincent’s beautifully jarring fourth album, Annie Clark has left herself fully exposed and unsheltered: “No one around, so I take off my clothes.” There’s something sneering about it at face value, but Clark is nothing if not full of surprises, rewarding patience with oblique revelations. In fact, exposure - the cost of living in the modern world - is a recurring theme on her self-titled LP. However, she does not overload her artistic expressions with straightforward explanations; she simply exhibits her most jagged and personal musical collection thus far.
Darkness has always found a home in St. Vincent’s songwriting, but her menacing disposition shamelessly erupts on here. It picks up where Strange Mercy
left off, incorporating distorted, serrated guitars into her restive instrumental arrangements. Clark ups the ante with wonderfully recalcitrant beats and rhythms that exude confidence and seduction, though the romantic appeals are perhaps more visceral than they have ever been. This animated sound is incredibly refreshing. Moments like the edgy guitar riff that interrupts the pale withdrawal of “Huey Newton” prove completely energizing. She nicely contrasts this effect on “Regret”, which brandishes its muscles immediately only to be offset by a delicate, youthful chorus.
Beyond the album’s variability and sophistication, though, is an aspect that has remained a staple of St. Vincent’s peculiar brand of pop: her voice. Embracing an extensive range with each song, Clark gives some of her best vocal performances yet, blending her tantalizing charm with a little bite. On “Psychopath”, she sings with a sense of delirium and affliction in the midst of soul-crippling infatuation. On “Birth In Reverse”, her voice implodes with discontent as she finds herself at odds with the culture she originally thought she knew. Rather than shying away from her insecurities in the stern face of contemporary society, Clark channels her frustration into concise and utterly alluring tracks. She takes liberty with subtle embellishments that not only enhance the personality of songs like “Bring Me Your Loves”, but also complement the naked passion driving her provocative deliberations.
There is not a single trace of tedium on St. Vincent
. None of the tracks meander, and each additional coating, like the distant guitar that appears beyond the current of strings on “I Prefer Your Love”, only adds to the enchantment. Plus, “Prince Johnny” and “Severed Crossed Fingers” are among the most awe-inspiring songs Clark has ever written with their lush and emotionally earnest palettes. Though Clark occasionally charges her lyrics with critiques of the multimedia age, she best establishes a voice when she relies on the oddities that make her personality so distinctive and beguiling. These oddities extend further beyond her shrewd lyricism to kindle her exhilarating melodies as well as the dense instrumentation and electronics in the mix. Hearing these elements unfold proves immensely enjoyable. However, it should be noted that this album isn't quite as masterful or memorable as her previous two, which were near-perfect blends of beauty and the darkness below the surface. Some of this album is familiar, but most of it is still satisfying.
St. Vincent’s fourth album offers a delightful new flavor of unconventional pop. Clark clearly has a lot on her mind, so lunging into the vivacious world that her thoughts uncloak is extremely rewarding. Where she will go next is anyone’s guess, but if her queenly portrayal on the cover art is any indication, she’s in complete control of her destiny.
Severed Crossed Fingers
I Prefer Your Love