Monday, 3 March 2014

St. Vincent - St. Vincent

Annie Clark has the artsy pop ridden sounds of Bowie's past, with the queen bee aesthetic of a powerful singer-songwriter in an industry dominated by money hungry men and their sons. And with a massive dance-punk /art rock gap left behind by LCD Soundsytem's retirement, I can't think of an artist more applicable with ability than St. Vincent to fill such a void. Now bigging up St. Vincent as this bedroom dance act seems odd, seeing as Clark's past albums haven’t been on the electronic side, Actor's luminous baroque pop made it a memorable feature in her back catalogue, and Strange Mercy, although moving towards that art rock sound, never seemed to attract the lad (with a) Mac listener.

St. Vincent's fourth album is quietly titled - St. Vincent. Yes, it's another one of these self-titled albums 10 years in to a career. With St. Vincent, Clark and co are not trying to be overtly cool with a self-title, it's more of a re-invention. As hard at it can be in the independent world to be noticed and purchased, St. Vincent managed to do enough to be pitched and sold to Republic Records, a subsidiary of Universal. It's a testimony to St. Vincent's growing audience, and one-upmanship of her albums. If you were to list St. Vincent's albums from best to worst, they'll be in reverse chronological order - and this even applies to the self-titled fourth album, which after only a decade of listens, strikes as Clark's best and most compact work to date.

It opens with "Rattlesnake", a track at one with nature. It outlines a basic story in Clark's past, where she was walking around Texas in the nude, running from what appeared to be a snake. The idea of running as a primary instinct acts as the basic core theme, along with the fact Clark is naked in this situation - like a Garden of Eden analogy. Musically, "Rattlesnake" and its follow-up "Birth In Reverse" feature very heavy electronic instruments. The percussion is primary drum machine dominated, with synthesizers cropping up throughout. It's completed by the gritty electric guitar riffs which are nothing short of Deerhoof-esque. The production quality of St. Vincent is very choppy, it's punk without meaning to be punk, and electronic without the intention of sounding electronic. There are no vague features, but plenty of variety musically. "Prince Johnny" sounds like an unearthed ABBA hit with louder percussion. The backing ethereal vocals sounds like the Swede's reverb heavy "Chiquita". And St. Vincent's sixth track "I Prefer Your Love" also features another comparison, this time it's Sinead O' Conor's "Nothing Compares To You". Clark's ballad is defined through the chorus, where the track title is sung with the following: " Jesus." It's a lovely ode to a loved one: "All the good in me is because of you." - directed at Clark's Mother, as opposed to a partner.

Clark worked with David Byrne, the master of new wave (and dancing for males with social disorders) prior to recording St. Vincent. His sharp lyricism surely rubbed off on Clark, whose lyricism on this album seems so bold and dominant as opposed to her previous albums. "Digital Witness" is the best example of Clark's improved lyricism, and Byrne influence. The lyrics refer to escapism in the form of the digital age, be it TV or internet. Clark sings: "What's the point of even sleeping," a defining moment on "Digital Witness". She sings this because of how the digital age has taken over the human body, and it's progression in a natural state. Just reflect on your own body clock, you know it to be true. But the meaning to this track goes far beyond the basicness of a computer screen and escaping from reality. Clark sees the harmful effects taken on by the digital age, and links it to dystopian realities where the internet controls us and dominates our living, which it isn't far off - it's a fearful track, one which is backed by brass instruments and a pounding percussion rhythm.

St. Vincent's themes range from loneliness ("Regret"), to internet connection ("Huey Newton" / "Every Tear Disappears"). It's a very modernist album, in the fact the lyrics refer to futuristic elements, and reflect on the past as something which can't be reached again - in the style of Talking Heads' "(Nothing) But Flowers". Then there's the animalistic, primal aspects of one’s mind ("Digital Witness" / "Bring Me Your Loves"). It's all brought together with truly fantastic production. "Psychopath" is the greatest example of St. Vincent's choppy instrumentation. Here, Clark sings about love, passionate love - unlike the primal love heard on "Bring Me Your Loves". Then there's the in-between love track, finale "Severed Crossed Fingers". This is where Clark comes in to her element - a strained relationship. It references Bowie's "Heroes", which relates to the relationship theme on "Severed Crossed Fingers". The finale very much completes the passages on St. Vincent. It feels like an album experience, with core themes expanded on throughout the album in different tracks, all bashing together to create the very illusions feared on "Digital Witness". This album is a work of art in itself, with Clark standing tall as a leader, highlighting issues of life and love, with the knowledge on how to change, but without the willpower.
~Eddie Gibson


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