St. Vincent

St. Vincent

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Annie Clark began recording St. Vincent almost immediately after she finished touring in support of Love This Giant, her inspired collaboration with David Byrne. It's not hard to hear the influence that album had on these songs: Love This Giant's literal and figurative brassiness gave Clark's witty yet thoughtful approach more sass without sacrificing any of her intelligence. Similarly, while St. Vincent is some of her most pop-oriented work, it doesn't dilute the essence of her music. If anything, her razor-sharp wit is even more potent when polished in a candy coating with just a hint of venom. This is especially true of the album's singles: on "Digital Witness," one of the songs with the closest kinship to her "Love This Giant" work, she juxtaposes pointed commentary ("If you can't see me/What's the point of doing anything?") with Valley Girl "yeah"s in a trenchant expression of the 21st century's constant oversharing and need for validation. This somewhat frantic undercurrent bubbles to the surface on "Birth in Reverse," one of Clark's most immediately winning singles since "Actor Out of Work," and one that makes retreat seem nearly as exciting as revolution. Here and throughout the album, Clark and longtime producer John Congleton use their signature, proudly artificial sound to highlight her direct storytelling, whether it's the way "I Prefer Your Love"'s trip-hoppy sheen lets the declaration "I prefer your love to Jesus" ring out more boldly or the way Clark sings "I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind" gives the lie to her brash guitar playing on "Regret." As on Strange Mercy, Clark explores strength and vulnerability in ever more masterful, and approachable, ways. Not every song may be as literally autobiographical as "Rattlesnake," which was inspired by a secluded walk in the desert in the altogether. Yet there's more than a kernel of emotional truth to "Prince Johnny," where Clark's character ends up even more exposed thanks to some songwriting sleight-of-hand. The hallucinatory, funky "Huey Newton" and the decaying power ballad "Severed Crossed Fingers" show off not just Clark's musical range, but just how eloquently she blends passion and precision. And, as her most satisfying, artful, and accessible album yet, St. Vincent earns its title.

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