Expanding upon her surrealist, avant-garde pop sound that characterised the mood of ‘Strange Mercy’, St. Vincent mastermind Annie Clark hurled herself back in to our consciousness with ‘Birth in Reverse’ providing us with a slithering of what was to come on St Vincent’s eponymous fourth album. In an age where guitar music is perpetually facing allegations that it has lost its vitality, this meteoric leading single served as a well overdue reminder that guitar melodies can still be contorted in frantically refreshing ways to create innovative grooves. "I knew the groove needed to be paramount”, confirms Annie Clark and an exemplary moment of this ethos features on ‘Huey Newton’. Whilst the track begins with a steady whirring electric piano and a mellow R&B-infused beat, Annie Clark completely flips the song on its head by ruthlessly tearing into a crunch-heavy guitar groove that provides us with yet another reason why we should restore our faith in the six-stringed weapon.
Although Annie is renowned for these guitar shredding skills, she does not let her sound become dictated by this talent as she also demonstrates her musical aptitude through other mediums. Following her critically acclaimed work with Talking Head’s figurehead David Byrne in 2012 on ‘Love This Giant’, she embraces bold brass melodies that influenced their work together on her second release from the record, ‘Digital Witness’. With an infectiously catchy vocal hook, this unorthodox pop tune addresses the woes of the modern age and questions: ”If I can't show it / If you can't see me / What's the point of doing anything?” before imploring her audience to watch her “jump right off the London Bridge”.
Further highlights on the record come from the employment of synths which successfully produce an amalgamation of soundscapes throughout. We hear them at their most brash on the possessive ‘Bring Me Your Loves’ as deformed and modulated synths wobble manically over militaristic snare rolls. Meanwhile, a similar sort of synthesised madness is also found on opening number ‘Rattlesnake’, as a gritty melody fuses with erratic electronic spasms before colliding with the archetypal Annie Clark fuzz. In contrast to these manifestations of chaos, synths also take on a significantly less confrontational form on the mellifluous ‘I Prefer Your Love’ which hosts Annie’s most tender/borderline-blasphemous track to date and on ‘Severed Cross Fingers’ which draws the album to a comfortable close.
From a stylistic perspective, listeners would not be mistaken in suggesting that this record feels audibly compatible with previous St. Vincent albums. Like previous records, we experience a meshing of audible carnage with dulcet tones; however, as a product of Annie’s newfound confidence coupled with her broader use of unfamiliar tones and percussive experimentation, ‘St. Vincent’ looms above the rest of her discography as her most expressive and gripping.
Words: George Hemmati