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Positive Feedback ISSUE 73
may/june 2014


St. Vincent, St. Vincent
by John Acton


St. Vincent

.St. Vincent albums defy easy categorization, evincing many different styles, oftentimes within the same song. It's nearly impossible to discern musical influences, and when attempting to describe St. Vincent's sound to others, the best one can do is "quirky" or "brilliantly eccentric." However, even in the context of her ineffable style, St. Vincent, also known as Annie Clark, subtly yet unmistakably strikes out for new lyrical and musical territory on her latest self-titled release. The cover art provides some indication as to this shift in direction, with Clark depicted in futuristic-looking clothes and hair style, poised regally on a cold and austere plastic chair. The overall impression given is one of unapproachibility and separateness. 

Lyrically, Clark steps back from the introspective focus of her previous St. Vincent records and explores more general themes of isolationism. Ostensibly about a solitary sojourn into the desert, the lyrics to the lead-off track, "Rattlesnake," could just as easily be interpreted as an observation of our societal aloneness when Clark states, "the only sound out here is my own breath, and my feet stuttering to make a path. Am I the only one in the only world?" Clark couples this idea of being cut off from others with our culture's social-media-driven need for validation on "Digital Witness", stating "if I can't show it, if you can't see me, what's the point of doing anything?" In an indictment of our insulated and numb modern virtualistic reality, Clark bemoans society's so-called progress in "Every Tear Disappears," singing "call the 21st century, tell her give us a break" and "every tear disappears. Oh and what about the pain? Don't ask me how. I just know that it fades."

Juxtaposed against the jaded cynicism reflected in Clark's lyrics, the musical arrangements on St. Vincent are decidedly upbeat. Employing tighter, more beat-driven rhythms, Clark gives her fourth album a harder, yet more accessible groove-propelled feel. Dap Kings drummer Homer Steinweiss makes his presence known on every song, and while Bobby Sparks returns with keyboards and synths, it's Clark's fretwork that is upfront and center on every track, and any who doubt her chops need only witness her solo on "Rattlesnake." Never before has Clark wielded her guitar to such discordant and jarring effect, casting musical judgement upon her own lyrical message in "Regret," where she sings "I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the heights. I'm afraid of because I can't be left behind." Yet, weaving its way through the frenetic rhythms and complex instrumental interplay displayed in Clark's arrangements is a thread of haunting beauty, and this is most readily witnessed in the album's closer, "Severed Crossed Fingers," where the lyrical message of loss is accentuated by a sublime melody and some of Clark's most poignant singing.

Through four St. Vincent releases and her collaborative work with David Byrne, not only does Annie Clark not make a misstep, she continues to evolve and mature in the art of songcraft. While still early, I'm confident in naming St. Vincent one of the best albums of the year.

Formats: CD, LP, Download