Off the wall and hard to describe: St Vincent’s eponymous fourth album is due out soon and it is a big box of musical chaos wrapped inside boutique ribbons. Sharing her stage name with an idyllic island, Annie Clark is from Oklahoma in the United States who grew up in Dallas, Texas.
Her music couldn’t be much further from the arid, commercial and conservative tone of her home-state. Known for her esoteric music and her complicated, layered and often baffling lyrics, St Vincent’s music is at the bleeding edge of the art-rock and indie rock movements. A former collaborator with super cool acts like Sufjan Stevens and Cage, she’s been that cool act that you’ve vaguely heard of for a while.
She’s always been beloved by most critics. Indeed, how many other artists are compared to David Bowie and Kate Bush early in their career? Her work is far from mainstream so far but she has charted with her last two albums, though she’s never quite cracked the top ten in her native US.
The new album does have a touch of Kate Bush about it. From the idiosyncratic lyrics and the emotionally driven vocals to the ambitious tone of the album, it’s easy to see how the comparison has been drawn. However there’s also a touch of another eighties legend as her vocals recall the sound of Cyndi Lauper, especially in the excellent “I Prefer Your Love”.
The album begins with a pair of quite up-tempo tracks that take a healthy amount of influence from eighties electronica. There’s the normal inventive lyrics and sly touches in both “Rattlesnake” and “Birth In Reverse”. Birth in Reverse is almost a bit poppy by comparison to her other work but it’s far from a mainstream track.
“Huey Newton” is another funky, upbeat sound perhaps drawing further back to the sixties and seventies. It’s joined also by the breakout single “Digital Witness” as having a sort of funk influenced sound. Digital Witness has a great beat to it and is a really upbeat and enjoyable song that could be a sleeper hit.
Things are a bit slower in places too with the dark, torch song of “Prince Johnny” with it’s beautiful, rich vocals which sound like a more decadent version of Lana del Ray. There’s also a healthy amount of slow, dark stuff with the downbeat “Every Tear Disappears”.
The chaotic tone of the album, which is akin to the lab of a mad scientist, is overflowing with ideas and permeates never every track on the album. “Regret” is particularly strange and has a touch of early David Bowie to it. “Bring Me Your Loves” starts off like a slice of discordant electronica but actually there’s a lot of method lurking inside this maelstrom of madness.
The album peaks with the sombre, dark and beautifully sad sound of “I Prefer Your Love” which has some moments of lyrical genius. “I prefer your love to Jesus” stands out as one of the tent pole lines of this album.
Comparisons could be made to Tori Amos in the last track, especially with the religious imagery in the track. This is stronger still in the lyrical road movie of “Psychopath” which builds up with a nice, metallic beat to a sun rise of a chorus.
The album closes out with a classic outro; the slow and bleak “Severed Cross Fingers” which just piles one dark image upon another like something out of some sort of musical butcher. The track is straightforward enough, even occasionally exhibiting some sort of country twang that’s seldom seen throughout this album. The album closes out cool and dark, showing the depth of St Vincent’s range.
Her song writing is complex, layered and highly imaginative. She’s always teasing out new ideas, new sounds and hiding jokes inside her lyrics. At times it’s almost infuriating, like a hipster’s poetry but in the end the sense of humour shines through.
Meanwhile her vocals are strikingly rich, occasionally discordant but never quite reaching Bjork levels where you fear for the glassware in your house. The more you listen to the eponymous album, the more you see method in the chaos.
Things occasionally end up blowing up a bit too much. The occasional lyric clunks down on the ground and at times, the album is almost too busy. But it’s seldom these days that you get an album that has no filler and every track on this album feels like it has a place there. St Vincent doesn’t seem interested in place holders.
Considering the dark tone of the lyrics and the occasionally sombre tone of the album, it’s not a depressing listen at all. Her quirky, offbeat music style and the richness of her voice always seems somewhat knowing, somewhat friendly and it keeps you listening, keeps you guessing and the more you listen, the more you unravel.
If St Vincent is a mad scientist, then her invention’s are complex, inventive and sometimes obscure, a perfect reflection of her. Some people will be put off by the oblique and chaotic tone of the album and some may find her lyrics off puttingly weird. But for many, this will be yet another hit album that will be exactly the sort of macguffin that they were looking for.
St Vincent has named the album after herself (in a way) and the album may stand as a great calling card, self portrait and mission statement. She’s not going away, the question she asks is “do you want to know more?”
We’re sharing our Album of the year long list before announcing our top 5 and winner in the next issue of the magazine. Click here for the other picks so far.