St. Vincent St. Vincent(Loma Vista/Republic) Buy it from Insound
“Oh what an ordinary day / Take out the garbage; masturbate.”
It may be the year 2014 and we may live in relatively enlightened times, but that line – especially coming from a woman – still goes off like a bomb. It’s not just the use of the word, “masturbate”, though it is still seemingly a taboo subject for women, but the matter-of-fact way that it’s delivered. The line, the first from Birth In Reverse, is, of course, entirely deliberate. It’s meant to make you do an aural double-take. Listening to St. Vincent, the fourth album from Annie Clark under her sobriquet, it’s soon clear that everything is done with a strong and clear purpose.
Self-titling an album that isn’t your debut can sometimes seem like a strange move, or perhaps an admission of a loss of inspiration. Artists like to say it signifies reinvention or that they’re truly baring their soul for the first time in such cases. However, neither qualifier seems to apply to St. Vincent. It’s a progression rather than a reinvention and while her lyrics are starkly honest, they’re forever shrouded in metaphor and examine her role as she sees herself: an outsider in the world.
Musically, you could say that St. Vincent is funky. However, while there’s plenty of brass and lots of exciting rhythms, it’s not funk as we know it. You couldn’t describe St. Vincent as liquid, loose or laid-back, rather it’s a twitchy, urgent kind of funk that sounds like it simply has to be released before it consumes Clark whole. It’s frenetic catharsis, interspersed with bursts of noise, unexpected turns and layers of guitar effects.
While this may seem musically impenetrable, repeated listens to St. Vincent reveal glimpses into Clark’s psyche, as she demonstrates yet again what a remarkable lyricist she is. The double-header of Huey Newton and Digital Witness examine our relationship with technology, and specifically the internet. On the former, Clark is “entombed in the shrine of zeroes and ones”, signifying both how the internet can trap us, but also potentially replacing the role of organised religion within our lives. Huey Newton switches halfway through from glitchy ballad to angular fuzz-guitars before descending into a swirling nightmare. Digital Witness then immediately throws you head-first into its melody and central conceit, backed by urgent brass not unlike Marrow, the stand-out from Clark’s 2009 album, Actor. After Huey Newton reveals our lives online may subsume us, Digital Witness examines our interactions and concludes that social networking is vapid, solipsistic and ultimately meaningless.
That’s not to say that St. Vincent isn’t without its more tender moments. I Prefer Your Love is probably the most straightforward track on the album, and examines Clark’s relationship with her mother through her lack of faith. Whilst many attribute the inner strength to a deity of their choosing, Clark is remarkably frank about who shaped her (“All the good in me is because of you”) and states that her maternal relationship is more precious to her than any religion could be (“I prefer your love to Jesus”).
While the hazy synths and trip-hop beats of I Prefer Your Love may be an appropriate accompaniment for an examination of a mother-daughter relationship, elsewhere things are less calm. Give Me Your Loves is full of squiggly oscillations as Clark messily chronicles the unpredictability of a recent relationship with the kind of idiosyncratic style rarely seen since tUnE-yArDs’ fantastic w h o k i l l album. Then, following Give Me Your Loves is Psychopath, apparently a look at the same relationship at a different point in time, its motoric rhythms suggesting stability and its inherent beauty showcased through the chorus’s swooping chord changes.
It’s difficult to think of another artist who’s so consistently inventive and rewarding. Listening to St. Vincent is a more enjoyable experience each time you press play, thanks to its seemingly bottomless well of inspiration. Whether it’s the halting guitar solo that mimics the jerky running away from a slithering foe on Rattlesnake or the false endings and stuttering of Birth In Reverse, there’s always something to leave you coming back for more.
St. Vincent is also very much an album for right now. Sure, there are the timeless themes of human relationships, but its self-examination takes us into the mind of someone simply trying to find their place in the world. With over seven billion people competing for space and resources, it’s often difficult to ascertain what – if anything – differentiates you from all the rest. Add in a culture that encourages we share every life event, no matter how mundane, and turns every interaction into a popularity contest, it’s little wonder that Clark worries about her own significance.
And that’s the wonder of St. Vincent. It’s a personal album that’s well-written enough to provide something we can all identify with. As you contemplate the frivolousness of your time on this planet, it’s comforting to know there’s someone who feels the same as you do and has documented it. And with tunes too.25 February, 2014 - 04:14 — Joe Rivers