St. Vincent, the stage name of solo indie multi-instrumental artist Annie Clark, released her highly anticipated self-titled fourth studio album today. The album was made available on NPR’s “First Listen” streaming service a week prior to release, giving eager fans an opportunity to try before they buy.
The new eponymous LP followed the 2011 album Strange Mercy, a lyrically emotional outpouring on Clark’s behalf, featuring a prominent string section mingling with Clark’s own lilting voice. In 2012, she collaborated with Talking Heads’ David Byrne on their off-the-wall album, Love This Giant, which was punctuated throughout by bold trumpet tones. Indeed, that album’s strong influence carried over onto St. Vincent, as evident by the growing presence of heavy brass sounds in addition to the usual arrangement of heavenly strings found on previous albums.
In the meantime, Clark has kept quite busy. She partnered up with Rookie, an alternative teen weblog spearheaded by wunderkind Tavi Gevinson, to make an instructional video on how to execute a “rainbow” soccer kick. She also made television cameos in the quirky IFC sketch comedy show Portlandia, the CW series Gossip Girl and the Fox cartoon Bob’s Burgers (where an animated revison of herself performed an original song called “Bad Girls”). Needless to say, Clark’s eccentric personal endeavors besides making music paint a unique portrait of the curious personality and childlike spirit of her album, as well as her well-established fan base.
The songstress had previously released two singles since December of 2013, building up hype for the album to come. The lead single “Birth in Reverse” makes use of distorted guitar riffs and an oscillating bassline, melding into an indie-pop-art-punk amalgam fit for an energetic dance floor. “Digital Witness,” the second single, invites in horns that craft a funky shoulder-shimmying beat as Clark croons, “I want all of your mind.” The song also doubles as a snarky criticism of social media and technology addiction. She warns to “get back” in the lyrics; Clark elaborates, “What’s the point of even sleeping / If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me / What’s the point of doing anything?” These two musical gems served as a foreshadowing for the album as a whole, of which the vast stylistic developments do not disappoint in the slightest.
Albeit clocking in at just over 40 minutes, St. Vincent is a masterful album strategically put together to reflect each song’s strengths. Clark shows off her singing chops on tracks like “Rattlesnake,” where her vocal register wavers like that of a psychedelic, modern-day George Formby. The track “Regret,” interspersed with hefty guitar licks, is a testament to Clark’s exquisite lyricism, in which she sings, “I’m afraid of heaven because I can’t stand the heights / I’m afraid of you because I can’t be left behind.”
Undoubtedly, the new record sees Clark experimenting with some new styles. On the gritty song “Bring Me Your Loves,” she chants in an almost tribal-like vocoder over a steady marching drum beat and extraterrestrial sliding guitar tones. Though a departure from her typical delicate, celestial sound, the song does its job in demonstrating Clark’s versatility and skill.
Though the majority of the album consists of up-tempo, synth-driven tracks, the song “I Prefer Your Love” loyally gleans some of the slow ballad sound that permeated St. Vincent’s last album, Strange Mercy. One of the outstanding songs on the album, “Huey Newton” is also reminiscent of Clark’s enchanting gospel-meets-cabaret sound that was omnipresent on the last album. She builds up to the high-hitting climax, singing the lyrics, “So Hale-Bopp / Hail Mary / hail Hagia Sophia / Oh it was a lonely, lonely winter,” only to wrap up in a flurried denouement full of crunchy guitar and bass -— the element that grounds the song firmly in the new sound of St. Vincent, and affirms Clark’s newfound gritty tenacity.
As the guitars get fuzzier and the drums hit harder throughout St. Vincent, Clark retains her plucky character manifested in her unparalleled voice — soft but strong, lofty but well-founded, feminine yet rough — making this record one of her best. The skillful fusion of genres and instrumentation presented in this album, cementing St. Vincent’s role as a force to be reckoned with, is a task few can pull off. It is safe to say St. Vincent can hold her own in the male-dominated music industry, even if it comes down to a no-holds-barred fistfight.
St. Vincent, with its volatile riffs and blitzkrieg rhythms, should definitely be considered fair warning.