St. Vincent: Queen of Pop
Matt McMahon | Wednesday, February 26, 2014
In Annie Clark’s brilliant, hilarious review of Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” for the online forum “TheTalkhouse,” she fixated on the simultaneous wonders and horrors of technology — specifically focusing on the Internet. Then, on her self-titled, fourth studio album, Clark, under the stage name St. Vincent, expounds upon this obsession with the digital age. The effects and implications of our technological progression infiltrate her markedly anxious writing and delicately precarious sound.
Like her usually unsettling album artwork — Clark’s porcelain-skinned face always graces her covers and accompanies some slightly creepy imagery, or her face itself is the source of unsettlement — on the album, titled “St. Vincent,” the artist balances the pristine beauty of lush pop with the jarring tendencies of experimental art rock. Donning the cover of “St. Vincent,” in fact, is Clark atop a smooth, pink throne, rightfully asserting herself in music royalty.
Across the impeccable, cohesive 11 tracks, St. Vincent merges her artsy, noise rock roots with her constantly increasing mastery of gripping, penetrating pop. Lead single “Birth in Reverse” mashes together At the Drive-In’s “One Armed Scissor” — in affinity for futuristic technology and harsh tempo — with the mundane deprecation, slackerism and general disconnect of Green Day’s “Longview.” But St. Vincent’s auditory twitching and the progression of her tight, bending riff, a motif common in her music, creates incomparable uneasiness. The paranoia always present in her work comes to a blistering head.
In this modern age, St. Vincent makes use of every musical component available at her fingertips in order to amplify her themes. True to its name, “Psychopath” is the most sonically unnerving track on the album, with incessant synthetic horn blares on top of a thumping bass beat. Yet, the song evolves with a blooming string section reminiscent of the coda in “Black Rainbow.” Similarly, “Regret” subtly advances through nuanced tempo and pitch changes.
The pair of standout tracks, “Prince Johnny” and “Huey Newton,” on an album loaded with standout tracks, provide some of the most varied work St. Vincent has put forward, all while keeping in line with her unique art and pop blend. The former explores the tragedy of self-destruction, surrounded by choral harmonies floating in the background and pierced with crunching, sexy guitar work. The latter builds to a heavy explosion through sludgy production, showing another side of the band’s edge while detailing the detachment and misplacement of importance caused by a life on the web. “Entombed in the shrine of ones and zeros,” Clark snarls, providing a concerned visual for the dangers.
Still, St. Vincent plays extremely accessible, despite her thick layering of lyrical themes and complex instrumentation. Whereas everything else about the band’s work would seem to indicate otherwise, “St. Vincent” is a fantastic, progressive pop record — “Bring Me Your Loves” could be taken as the groups’ twisted interpretation of a Janelle Monáe or Beyoncé single, and “Digital Witness” features an earworm of a chorus.
In part, this is explained by Clark’s unaltered vocals, remaining the most human element of her music, which carefully turns humane inflections without manipulation. It constantly cuts through the electronic aspects and solidifies the pop aspect of her songs. Ballad-like “I Prefer Your Love” and heartbreaking, melodic “Severed Crossed Fingers” showcase Clark’s robust voice and beautiful pronunciation.
St. Vincent sneaks worlds of intricacies into brimming pop on her self-titled album. Like her on-edge examination of humanity and artificiality, Clark’s music resides impeccably at the intersection of accessible and frenetic.