Album Review – St. Vincent: ‘St. Vincent’

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St. Vincent is the most mesmerizing artist in indie rock music today. Where Strange Mercy showed potential, St. Vincent capitalizes on Annie Clark’s store of erudite emotional and cultural reflections and carefully constructed artistic perspectives. You don’t have to read many interviews with her before realizing how incredibly eloquent and thoughtful she is. Her previous three records, most successfully Strange Mercy, have the air of great experiments, conveying her unique sensibilities through a signature guitar style and masterful, delicate compositions. While Strange Mercy came close, St. Vincent truly translates Clark’s stunning sophistication that has always shone through. That isn’t to say that St. Vincent doesn’t take risks — in fact, it might be her greatest risk yet.

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The album begins with literal vulnerability. “Rattlesnake” tells of an encounter she had with nature in Texas, where she decided to go on a naked frolic through the woods, only to discover she wasn’t really as alone as she thought. The jaunty, neurotic opening riff sets the scene for the imminent danger and thrill that an unexpected rattling sound sparks. In interviews, Clark says that this really did happen: after seeing the snake, she ran, terrified and naked back to her friend’s home, took a shot of tequila, then wrote the song.

St. Vincent is full of these celebratory moments — steeped in and fascinated by danger, by risks, even by pain. Take “Huey Newton” and “Regret” (arguably the most triumphant song after “Birth in Reverse”).  ”Huey” starts slow, like the descent into a drug-induced slumber. But what feels stilted gracefully ascends to this revelatory realm similar to a dream – “Pleasure dot loathing dot Huey dot Newton / oooh / it was a lonely lonely winter…” – and then, Clark jolts us into something else entirely, filled with gloriously grunge guitar and ferocity – “Entombed in a shrine of zeroes and ones / you know…”, she snarls. The song’s progression is definitely difficult to map, as you can tell by this brief attempt. Just know that “Huey” could be one of the best tracks of 2014.

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The stars of St. Vincent are numerous. Along with “Birth in Reverse” – the clear, brave epitome of the album – you also have slow, slick ballads like “Severed Crossed Fingers” and “I Prefer Your Love.” Nothing feels more personal than imagining your own body parts falling apart for your art – “Spitting our guts from their gears / draining our spleen over years / find my severed crossed fingers in the rubble there.” However, “Prince Johnny” definitely stands out as the gorgeous darling of St. Vincent, with its velvety, ambient choir and dark character portrait.  

Concerning the influence her collaboration with David Byrne on the LP, Love This Giant, Clark speaks admiringly of Byrne’s fearlessness. She also talks about the thrill and impetus that their tour’s choreographed stage routine gave her – she credits St. Vincent‘s undeniable danceability to this experience. “Digital Witness” in particular succeeds here, the most Love This Giant-esque of the album, as well as “Birth” and “Rattlesnake.” She puts her talent for writing intriguing but essentially pop melodies to work in St. Vincent, clearly reveling in her own reality.

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St. Vincent seems to literally live and breathe and even come close to death through this record. By embracing herself whole-heartedly, she’s managed to produce art that is entirely genuine, personal, and new. It must be terrifying, but in many more ways it sounds liberating. Like many geniuses before her, St. Vincent has risked it all.

“Birth in Reverse”

“Huey Newton”

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