St. Vincent’s experimental transformation complete
“St. Vincent” is the self-titled fourth album from singer-songwriter Annie Clark, whose previous three albums have found success through continued experimentation. Fully realized on this new release is her slow shift from a more traditional rock-pop sound to the wild, electronic art-pop that began on “Strange Mercy.”
Clark’s recent collaboration with David Byrne of the Talking Heads shows it’s influence here in both sound and presentation. From the visually striking album cover to her theatrical approach to live performance, this album functions as a piece of the larger St. Vincent experience.
“Rattlesnake” is the perfect opener to this experience, encapsulating the sound and approach of the whole album in a single track.
Opening with a catchy minimoog (analog synthesizer) riff and Clark’s stark vocal, it builds into electronic drums and a harmonized vocal line, eventually exploding into a satisfying guitar solo drenched in texture. From the subtle changes in vocal timbre, to the loud, distorted, abrasive sound of the solo, Clark is showing an incredible control over the nuances of the synthetic sounds heard here.
The synths are a driving force on “St. Vincent,” propelled by the sound of the minimoog, an analog synthesizer from the ’70s. Heard on every track, the minimoog provides an array of effects and sounds, but it’s biggest role is replacing the bass guitar for the entirety of this record. This gives the record a characteristic sound throughout, ensuring that every song is grounded in a digital, electronic texture.
Of course, the minimoog has to share the spotlight with Clark, whose strong melodic sense and vocal control shines throughout. She has a way of crafting catchy melodies that keep us listening even in the face of wild experimentation. A track like “Every Tear Disappears” might alienate an audience if it lacked a strong vocal line to guide through the challenging musical content. Clark further demonstrates her strength on “Prince Johnny,” where her gorgeous vocal melody dominates a track featuring an unchanging drum loop.
The songwriting on this album is of the quality we’ve come to expect from St. Vincent, yet perhaps more rhythmically interesting than ever before. “Bring Me Your Loves” is Annie Clark’s distorted version of a reggaeton track, with syncopated rhythms permeating the vocal line all the way down to the bass. The synth effects standout on this track as well, from the haunting effect on the vocal harmony to the abrasive, gnarly and downright ugly sounds of the guitar riffs. The only track that falls short on rhythm and writing is “I Prefer Your Love,” which gets stuck in a repetitive, slow textured drum and synth sound.
The best track on this album is “Digital Witness,” which sees Clark commenting on our obsession with modern technology and social media. Every vocal line in this song is a hook, and the inclusion of a live horn section is a welcome timbral change.
The juxtaposition of the syncopated horn lines with the pounding, synthetic minimoog bass is so satisfying its a shame Clark didn’t experiment more with live instrumentation on this record. While this might not be her best album, Annie Clark has produced another great listening experience with a unique sound that sets it apart from the rest of her work, and bodes well for her continued experimentation.
4 stars out of 5.