Review: St. Vincent, ‘St. Vincent’


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Singer/songwriter Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) delivers big-time on St. Vincent 

St. Vincent • St. Vincent • Loma Vista/Republic • US Release Date: February 25, 2014

St Vincent-PKE-000033After several albums, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) still isn’t what you’d call a household name.  It’s a shame given the singer/songwriter’s most recent self-titled effort is nothing short of captivating, filled with some truly exceptional material.  On St. Vincent, the groove seems to propel every track, and there’s not one thing wrong with that.  The songwriting throughout isn’t too shabby either, making this alt/indie-pop affair quite the musical treat.  St. Vincent isn’t perfect (“Perfect Isn’t Easy”), but there are very few flaws for even the most nitpicky of nitpickers.  You could say being ‘different’ pays off for St. Vincent, like big-time.

Rattlesnake” captures the ears from the onset, delivering quite a unique sound. The mix of distorted guitars, drums, and synths definitely highlight. As previously mentioned, the groove itself is killer from the onset, inviting the listener to ‘move’ to the music. Sure, “Rattlesnake” is by no means an alt-dance song or club-cut, but the music itself gives it a pop sensibility.  Lyrically, its all bread and butter with lyrics like “I see the snake holes dotted in the sand / as if the Seurat painted the Rio Grande / am I the only one in the only world?”  If that’s too ‘abstract’, perhaps repetitive lyrics like “Running, running, running, rattle behind me…” are more lighthearted and fun.

Birth In Reverse” would capture anybody’s attention, if for nothing else than the title itself.  St. Vincent isn’t literally referring to ‘birth in reverse’, but she does seem to be figuratively playing on the idea of ‘death’ or sort of the predictability and boringness that can be everyday life.  “Oh what an ordinary day,” she sings on the first verse. “Take out the garbage, masturbate / I’m still holding for the laugh…” Essentially, it’s as if there is no change of pace – the routines remain the same. Because St. Vincent captures this lyrically, “Birth In Reverse” shines marvelously.

St Vincent-PKE-000034Prince Johnny” doesn’t let up off the gas, delivering a moody cut that proves to be equally beautiful.   Lyrically, St. Vincent’s lyrics are ingenious, as she sings through numerous allusions and metaphors.  The character Prince Johnny ends up being incredibly complex, but then again, St. Vincent relays that lyrically at the onset (“Prince Johnny, you’re kind but you’re not simple / By now I think I know the difference”).  Among St. Vincent’s most clever allusion is to Pinocchio, in which she sings “Saw you pray to all to make you a real boy…”  “Huey Newton” proceeds in hypnotic fashion, with an air of mysteriousness.  Lyrically, St. Vincent continues to allure, whether its overt moments like “F**kless porn sharks / toothless but got a big bark / live children blind psychics / turned online assassins…” or more poetic ones such as “entombed in the shrine of zeros and ones / you know, you know /with fatherless features, you motherless creatures.”  Annie Clark, you’re truly something!

Digital Witness” is a definitely standout, with its soulful, groove-laden production work.  St. Vincent definitely criticizes social media/networking, and how it’s affected traditional social relationships. “People turn the TV on, it looks like a window.”  Basically, St. Vincent seems to suggest that real-life interaction has been supplanted with any number apps and social networking avenues. “Digital witnesses / what’s the point of even sleeping,” St. Vincent sings on the chorus. “If I can’t show it if you can’t see me / what’s the point of doing anything?” Does she overreact to the power of social media? Perhaps or perhaps not, but she makes one awesome song in the process.

St Vincent-PKE-000035I Prefer Your Love” is another meaningful moment from St. Vincent.  Written about her mother, Clark confidently sings, “I prefer your love to Jesus”.  Lyrics throughout give away the fact that it is a dedication to her mother, including “Mother, won’t you open your arms and forgive me of all these / bad thoughts I’m blinded to the faces in the fog”.  Relaxed, yet still rhythmic, “I Prefer Your Love” is easily one of the year’s most touching ballads.  “Regret” is a contrast to the slow tempo of “Love”, incorporating more of a ‘rock’ nature about it, driven by the distorted guitar.  “Regret” doesn’t quite have the same oomph of the cream of the crop, but there is still plenty of lyrical and instrumental personality exhibited.   I mean, lyrics like “I’m afraid of heaven because I can’t stand the heights/ I’m afraid of you because I can’t be left behind…” will always standout regardless of the song itself.

Bring Me Your Loves” thrives on lyrical repetition as one of its weapons.  Unusual sounding at the onset, “Bring Me Your Loves” is also quite appealing.  “I thought you were like a dog / I thought you were a dog, but you made a pet of me…” Wow, St. Vincent, wow! She goes on later to say “I took you off your leash / but I can’t, no I can’t make you heel.” She can’t control her man – he’s controlling her? Seems that way.  Then there’s “Psychopath”, which is consistently rhythmic St Vincent-PKE-000036throughout.  The use of acoustic guitars gives the cut a nice timbre.  Still, the lyrics certainly aren’t what you would call ‘warm and fuzzy’: “Wanna make a bet whether I can make it back cause / I’m on the edge of a heart attack.”  “Every Tear Disappears” benefits from its quirkiness, a pro that characterizing the entire of album.  Simple, yet clever lyrically, that’s just the way Annie Clark rolls apparently. “Severed Cross Fingers” closes exceptionally; the harmonic progression shines, the groove anchors, and St. Vincent is, well St. Vincent.

Ultimately, St. Vincent ends up being a superb album.  It is creative, quirky, and incredibly enjoyable.  St. Vincent doesn’t go for the ‘humdrum’, but instead is forward thinking and truly thoughtful from both a lyrical and musical perspective.  Sure, the singer/songwriter has been a round for years and the premise hasn’t changed, but St. Vincent continues to think outside of the box and plays against clichés rather than playing into them.  Because of this, St. Vincent is one of the year’s best.

Favorites:

“Rattlesnake”; “Prince Johnny”; “Digital Witness”; “I Prefer Your Love”; “Severed Cross Fingers”

Verdict: ★★★★

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One comment

  1. Good review Brent. I don’t think Annie Clark has ever written songs she intended to be easily understood but I believe there was a change of premise with this album in that there are recognisable themes in St Vincent where there weren’t necessarily before, in previous albums. The clearest one is the negative impact of social media, which crops up in several songs; also the disintegration of America (to which she’s referred previously) and on which she reports ‘from the edge’ in Birth in Reverse. Best song? Severed Crossed Fingers. God knows why it isn’t a single. BTW check out the book of short stories from which she got inspiration for at least three of these songs (Birth in reverse, Bring me your loves and Severed Crossed Fingers). It will give you insight into the way she thinks, as it did for me. ‘Birds of America’ by Lorrie Moore.

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