St. Vincent has never been conventional, but with her new self-named album St. Vincent, she has jumped off the edge of indie pop standards.
The voice of Annie Clark, the girl behind the stage name, is elegant and haunting, grazing over odd lyrics with comfort and pleasure. Quasi-surrealist and complex, if St. Vincent’s new album was a human, he or she would be sociopathic and probably in the midst of a morphine trip. Clark herself is incredibly lovable, with a mass of curly hair hovering over her symmetrical, pale and delicate features. Her image heavily clashes with that of St. Vincent, who has become a daring, wicked darling of the idiosyncratic — illustrated by her eccentric album cover.
The album is a leap away from St. Vincent’s past work. Many might know her by the track “Cruel,” which, despite clever experimentalism and strong emotional reverberations, has a relatively tame sound and melody. Her relatively recent album, Love This Giant, produced with Talking Heads founder David Byrne, has its fair share of out-of-the-box theatrics and innovative, startling noises. Yet it lacks the musical gumption that makes St. Vincent such an exciting modern masterpiece. I will tentatively say that this album may be her best work yet.
“Regret” is distinguished by the muted grumblings of a cheering, catchy guitar solo and the quiet lyrics of the bridge: “I’m afraid of heaven because I can’t stand the height / I’m afraid of you because I can’t be left behind.” Yet she doesn’t mope in silence for too long; the bridge collapses into a pause before spitting out the satisfying pounding of guitar chords and her pithy exclamation of “Oh well!” It’s hard not to keep listening to that one part just to catch the smile in her voice.
Yet she returns to a more visceral sound with “Severed Cross Fingers,” a shout-out to 1970s rock. In many ways it recalls her cover of Nico’s “These Days.” The chorus is sweet, soothing and honest; it reveals maturity through sentiment sans consideration of the macabre lyrics: “Spitting out guts from their gears / Draining our spleen over years.” She touches on the soul and ingenuity of classical rock without losing the awesome weirdness that makes her the artist that she is.
As an eccentric songwriter and singer, it’s no surprise that the stories behind her songs are equally strange. The synth paradise “Rattlesnake” is based on a true story of her stripping naked for a spiritual experience in the desert only to be confronted by a rattlesnake (predictable enough). But tripping on Ambien only to bond with Huey Newton, inspiring the song of the same name? Hard to say how the experience could in any way coincide with the troubling anatomy of the song, but I guess that’s all part of the trip.
Whether it’s “Birth in Reverse” or “Every Tear Disappears,” St. Vincent dares to take the leap into the absurd. Every song carries on like a narrative. Even though it’s nearly impossible to understand what she’s trying to say through her words, Clark leads us in the direction of not needing to get the point. She urges us to just let it sink in. It’s enough to enjoy the world that she creates: of fantasy, fear and a mind-boggling, satisfying strangeness.
4.5 out of 5 stars