Well, here it is. This self-titled effort has been highly anticipated for the past few months, Clark releasing a couple of songs early in an attempt to whet appetites, which has been extremely successful. The first couple of songs she released, “Digital Witness” and “Birth in Reverse” promised an album full of the beautiful irreverence, polysemous imagery and fantastic guitar work which made St. Vincent’s first three albums so refreshing and brilliant.
The album opens with “Rattlesnake”, a much discussed track based on the true story of Clark’s nude frolic in the Texas desert, only to happen upon a rattlesnake and proceed to run for her life. A bouncy, ultra-modern yet ultra-retro synth riff is the first thing heard on the record, which somehow manages to be so St. Vincent whilst simultaneously so not St. Vincent. Then she comes in, an almost lo-fi vocal, declaring “no one around so I take off my clothes” – a lyric wonderfully conveying Clark’s eagerness to bare all, to reveal everything and do whatever she feels like, just because she feels like it. This opening track sets the tone for the rest of the album brilliantly – it’s new but it’s familiar, it’s fresh but it’s worn in, it’s Annie Clark but it’s St. Vincent. And don’t be fooled, there is a distinction – the well spoken, switched on Clark as she appears in press interviews and the enigmatic, musically panoptic St. Vincent.
The most noticeably different aspect of this new record is the guitar sounds. St. Vincent has always been a fantastic guitarist, her riffs as spellbinding as her persona, although on this new record she seems to kick it up a notch. There are some absolutely huge guitar sounds, the octave-pedal driven riff in “Huey Newton” being a particular highlight, with the guitar sounds not the only pleasing instrumentation. Perhaps the most noticeably different aspect of this record in terms of instrumentation is the percussion; having been understated in previous efforts, Clark has for this album drafted in Homer Steinwess and McKenzie Smith to bang the drums. It’s a nice change to hear them so prominent in the mix, with tracks like “Regret” using syncopated beats as an anchor, and “Severed Crossed Fingers” lazy, wandering beat so easy to latch onto.
On the face of it, finding any semblance of sentimentality or lyrical depth in this album is difficult. This isn’t due to St. Vincent herself being incapable of such things, it’s more the way the album is presented – the metallic, unemotional cover art coupled with the frankly below-par vocal levels (it’s difficult to detect some of the lyrics when Clark is singing in a lower register), although after a few listens the depth of the album becomes more obvious. Aside from the salient love song “I Prefer Your Love”, tracks like “Every Tear Disappears” and “Severed Crossed Fingers” deliver a sagacious dollop of dewy-eyed lyricism.
All things considered, St. Vincent is a triumph of witticism, quirk and individualism in a musical landscape rife with the concept of conformity; a lot of artists want to make music to fit in, to sell records or to cultivate a marketable image. St. Vincent is happy being her own woman, wonderfully weird and unashamedly different.