Four albums strong into Annie Erin Clark’s career and I think it’s now safe to dismiss all notions that Clark’s (better known by her stage name St. Vincent) amazing success has been simply one fortune fluke after another.
Even more remarkable, she has yet to release an album that even hinted at playing it safe or sounding like a step backwards.
St. Vincent started off not hearkening to any one sound or trend and she shows no signs of stopping that wonderful run here on her latest release. On paper, it sounds like an easy enough formula to describe: a continuation of those same electric, bizarre, yet catchy electropop/rock experimentations that borrow liberally from jazz, blues, baroque pop and progressive rock.
Okay, so in hindsight, maybe not so formulaic, nor all that easy to explain, but whatever it is, it’s safe to say it’s been working. And it continues to work on ‘St. Vincent.’
The mood of the album is a manic rollercoaster from start to finish, alternating from the dizzying, glitchy highs of album opener “Rattlesnake,” to the slowed down, spaced-out bluesy jams of “Henry Newton” and “I Prefer Your Love,” the former sounding like what could only be adequately described as “electric Vegas cocktail lounge in space meets jazz;” and the latter sounding more like a straightforward, beautiful ballad.
From all the dazzling, delirious electro-cacophony, St. Vincent crafts surprisingly accessible pop melodies. Each track is layered and simply loaded to the nines with a plethora of ideas—take the glitch-filled mania paired expertly with a crunchy guitar hook in “Birth in Reverse,” or the electronic swing-band-meets-disco groove she pieces together on the catchy “Digital Witness,” for example.
The greatest trick ‘St. Vincent’ pulls, however, is its seemingly inconspicuous double act. On initial listen, the pop melodies stand out first and foremost, and you’re perfectly welcome to simply enjoy a catchy sounding album. From the highs to the lows, Ms. Clark knows what she’s doing when it comes to basic songwriting, and navigates listener’s expectations accordingly.
But it’s the second listen that brings out those hidden depths she’s woven into the music, rewarding all who dare with a challenging, complex art-pop album buried beneath. The mood and music of the album is manipulated expertly, keeping you on your toes for the abrupt shifts, and starts and stops, accompanied by drones, beeps, bells, glitches, guitars, grooves and whatever other whims St. Vincent felt were called for.
In the hands of less-talented musicians, following every artistic impulse could have lead to an unlistenable, multi-directional mess. But if St. Vincent’s managed to finally prove anything with this latest album, it’s that she works best at the heart of the chaotic and unconventional.
Verdict: Blending these kinds
of crazy ideas over the course of
a weird sounding art-pop album shouldn’t work, but damned if St. Vincent doesn’t find a way to make your new, new favorite album.
(February 24, 2014)