St. Vincent showcases bold, challenging sound on LP

courtesy of Republic Records

St. Vincent’s self-titled LP, released Feb. 25, opens with a discription of her wandering completely naked through a Texan desert. “Am I the only one in the only world?” she ponders with careful trepidation over a stuttering beat provided by Dap Kings percussionist Homer Steinweiss.

What begins as a lament on existential loneliness quickly escalates into chaos when she realizes a rattlesnake is following her and the frenzied hell of a St. Vincent guitar solo is unleashed.

“Rattlesnake” is a fitting opener for an album that grapples with the heavy themes of isolation and longing in a world saturated with social media. This LP, Annie Clark’s fourth solo release under the moniker St. Vincent, is by no means depressive. Instead, it is her most invigorated and personal work to date.

“St. Vincent” comes fresh off the heels of an incredibly fruitful past few years for Clark.

After multiple world tours, an acclaimed collaborative album with David Byrne, guest stints on “Portlandia” and a gig at Diane von Furstenberg’s Spring 2014 fashion show, Clark has been propelled to celebrity status in the realm of alternative music.

Parting with label 4AD for the Universal subsidiary Loma Vista, Clark took the opportunity to capitalize on her success by taking a more sonically mainstream route on this record.

“St. Vincent” is her most accessible release to date, but not because it was manufactured in a way to appeal to the masses.

The artful weirdness and witty lyricism associated with Clark are still very present, even amplified at times. Producer John Congleton makes an effort to preserve the sound he and Clark have cultivated over her previous two solo LPs.

Described by Clark as “a party record you could play at a funeral,” the album seamlessly merges bouncy pop and heavy rock. What sets the album apart from her previous releases is a newfound sense of extroversion. Clark is more confident than ever, and her boldness reverberates throughout the record. She morphs a space-age groove into a metal anthem on the phenomenal “Huey Newton” without batting an eyelash.

The lead single “Digital Witness” finds her questioning millennial reliance on constant validation through social media. With a bouncing brass section backing an ’80s power pop chorus, it is easy to see how David Byrne’s theatricality has rubbed off on her.

The fearlessness on this record also translates into some of Clark’s most emotionally direct material. Stretchy synth closer “Severed Crossed Fingers” reflects on a gut-wrenching missed connection while “Prince Johnny” tells the story of self-destruction with a woozy beat and slick guitar.

Clark’s “I Prefer Your Love” is the album’s most poignant song, a tender ballad of unconditional love written during her mother’s bout with illness.

She has created a record that is her best commercially and features some of the most accomplished and intricately constructed music of her career thus far.

In an age where popularity in the music business can lead to transparency, “St. Vincent” is a triumph and one of the most challenging pop releases in quite some time.

A version of this article appeared in the Feb. 26 print edition. Sal Maicki is a contributing writer. Email him at music@nyunews.com.

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