St. Vincent is a statement album. With her reputation secured after releasing three critical darlings, Annie Clark made her first move to the hallowed halls of ‘the crossover’ with 2012’s Love This Giant with David Byrne. Now very much out of the shadow of former collaborator Sufjan Stevens (he of fleeting Pitchfork acclaim and who no one really cared about), on her eponymous fourth album she’s declaring who she is and what she’s about – and doing it in style.
St.Vincent is a difficult act to pin down; it channels influences from all over and condenses them into a furious, energetic mix of funk, rock, dance and pop. The jerky, jagged music plays off Clark’s supreme vocals to create a singularly eccentric blend of the baroque, the plastic and the artsy. Her work with Byrne shows on an album that redoubles the funk and the 80s of Love This Giant, creating perhaps her most alive album yet. In many ways its strange, electro-retro-futuristic funk harbours similarities to Janelle Monae’s The Electric Lady; however, where Monae suffered for lapses in momentum and an inconsistent sense of adventure, St.Vincent soars across 40 beautifully measured minutes.
Always engaging, always different and always unique, Clark’s vocals are what really hold the album together. They enable her to move seamlessly from the furious, scattershot energy of album opener Rattlehead to the down-tempo, very 90s R&B I Prefer Your Love without missing a beat. The purity and sweetness of her voice is matched only by its variety and Clark’s masterful handling of it. Perhaps best evidenced by the odd, haunting, and strangely witty Every Tear Disappears (in particular note how seductively pure that opening line is), Clark’s vocals are alternately fierce, sultry, choral and fuzzed up; a universal selling point for a frequently strange album.
That St.Vincent manages to incorporate so many leaps in style without losing its cohesion is testament to production that manages to mould the many stylistic motifs into distinct wholes. The core elements of her music remain largely the same, but teased out in different forms. The wickedly funky, crunching guitar and choral ambience of the mesmerising Prince Johnny (perhaps the single best demonstration of her unique talents) are staples of her sound, here brought front and center. On Bring Me Your Loves it’s all discordant, clanging keyboards and swirling vocal harmonies over an impossible to place sense of tribal chaos.
The result is an album that blends the dreamy with the dirty, the divine with the dissonant, and the art with the pop. Few are the albums that combine so many disparate elements together with such grace, but St.Vincent does so with nary a misstep in sight. An early high-bar for musical adventurousness and consistency of craft, St.Vincent is the kind of smart, bold music you usually expect to be saddled with smug pretentiousness and aspirations of high art; what we’ve got instead is just fun.
Prince Johnny, Every Tear Disappears, Rattlesnake