Cameron McBroom reviews Annie Clark's latest release as St. Vincent, one of February's best
Album Review: St. Vincent, s/t
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. With Strange Mercy, Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, released one of the best albums of 2011. That record’s follow-up, February’s self-titled St. Vincent, largely follows in the footsteps of Clark’s previous work; art rock centered around her trademark wonky guitar playing. Still, don’t expect a batch of Strange Mercy leftovers. While St. Vincent does little to evolve Clark’s sound, none of its eleven songs feel extraneous or hackneyed, rather, they deepen an already impressive catalogue.
“Huey Newton” and “Bring Me Your Loves” are easily two of Clark’s strongest tracks to date. The former glides along a muted, wobbly synth-line before being bursting into what might be the most menacing, fuzzed-out riff Clark has ever recorded. “Bring Me Your Loves” is less reserved in its explosiveness. Jerky rhythms and alien distortion saturate the song from the beginning, with Clark’s layered vocals shouting through the rush. While quirky and abrasive sounds have always been a staple of St. Vincent, rarely has Clark ever sounded this unrelenting and emphatic.
The guitars in the opening duo of “Rattlesnake” and “Birth In Reverse” are as crooked and biting as “Huey Newton”’s are heavy, reaffirming Clark’s status as one of the most talented players in indie rock. Taking a page from Love This Giant, a 2012 collaboration with David Byrne, “Digital Witness” refreshingly swaps the guitars for energetic horns. Behind the brass, Clark sings of insomnia in the high-tech information age. These types of anxious musings are littered throughout the album. Everyday malaise (“oh, what an ordinary day / take out the garbage, masturbate”) and modern frustrations (“call the twenty-first century, tell her give us a break”) remain at the center of Clark’s lyrics.
“I Prefer Your Love,” an ode to Clark’s mother, provides a necessary lull in the album’s pace, but is the least interesting of St. Vincent’s slower fare. On its own, it doesn’t stand up to the pleads of “Prince Johnny” or the dark, wry anthem “Severed Crossed Fingers,” an excellent closer with grotesque lyrics that live up to its title.
St. Vincent is a solid record all around, and among the year’s best so far. Still, it’s hard not to feel like Clark is playing it a bit too safe. Her fourth album as St. Vincent is less of a progression and more of a reiteration of previous efforts. It’s tempting to think of what an inventive artist like Clark might do with a stark change in direction, but until then St. Vincent is more than enough to gladly mull over.