For an artist so voracious for pop culture, be it highbrow or lowbrow, it seems almost out of place for St Vincent to release a self-titled album. Then again, she embodies making the unusual seem beautifully harmonious.
A cultural savant, Annie Clark sourced her stage name from a Nick Cave Song; her first album title Marry Me is a recurring line in the TV show Arrested Development; her second album Actor was deeply inspired by Disney movies; and her third album Strange Mercy alludes to Éric Rohmer films and Marilyn Monroe quotes.
A Berklee College of Music dropout, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist started out as a member of The Polyphonic Spree before joining Sufjan Stevens’ touring band. In 2006 she decided it was time to start her own band and tweaked out three complex, unorthodox albums, with her sound having been described as a mix of rock, pop, indie and jazz. After releasing an album with good friend David Byrne and receiving the 2013 Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Award, St Vincent returns with another bag of elaborately twisted tunes.
St Vincent opens with Rattlesnake, a menagerie of distorted guitars, synth and quirky, zippy instrumentation, a theme that is carried through into the following track and first single, Birth in Reverse. Prince Johnny has a Bat for Lashes vibe to it, with the vocal melodies taking more control over the distorted guitars.
Clark starts to lather on the instrumentation, with Huey Newton creating an airy wonderland of synth, and second single Digital Witness delivers a driving horn section. I Prefer Your Love slows things down a bit with spacey production, before Regret sets in with stomping drums and guitar layering. Bring Me Your Loves typifies St Vincent’s contorting arrangements, filled with a quirky mishmash of synths, guitars and her gorgeous choir voice going a cappella in parts. Psychopath is ironically one of the more normal, consistently assembled tracks on the record, with glimmering synth and soaring vocals carrying it, before a typically abrupt conclusion. Every Tear Disappears exhibits some sharp electronic production before Severed Crossed Fingers provides a gorgeous slow farewell.
Known for her ornately complex compositions contrasted with her pretty voice, St Vincent sees her unique songwriting continue to peak. She augments already warped structures to reach a seemingly natural dynamic, with characteristic undertones of sex, violence and disarray. They say it’s a fine line between genius and insanity, and with her manic music making, St Vincent continues to dabble either side of the line.