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Friday, 11 April 2014 08:55

Album review: St. Vincent continues to grow on her latest, self-titled album

Album review: St. Vincent continues to grow on her latest, self-titled album
Written by Liz Schranck
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St. Vincent
"St. Vincent"
Loma Vista/Republic

It's remarkable what 10 years in the industry have done for Texas native St. Vincent (Annie Clark). Now, with five albums on the shelves, she's reaching the masses not just by gracing the top 40 charts, but by infusing her music with qualities not-often heard in mainstream music.

For her latest release, one minute St. Vincent will make you wonder whether or not you've been consumed by the digital age, and the next reflect on familial relationships. To say she has a broad range as an artist is simply an understatement.

St. Vincent's fifth, self-titled album features upbeat, indie-rock tunes that will do more than remind you why the captivating musician first graced the airwaves as an independent artist with her debut release "Marry Me" in 2007.

She composed every track on this release, from the melodies to the lyrics, with able support from Bobby Sparks on the mini-Moog and McKenzie Smith on the drums. Her style and songwriting still very much contain the influences heard in her earlier releases, but the production is more deliberate.

The vocals are heavily treated with distortion, or rasp, giving the songs an edgier feel. Bass, percussion, horns and other instruments are treated as well. The combination of her exceptional lyrical content matching the album's production brings out the pop-centered focus of the album. She plays with metaphorical language on nearly every track, giving the lyrics an insightful, and sometimes quirky, vibe. That, combined with the up-tempo beat on nearly every song, makes for album that will keep your attention from start to finish.

Moreover, this album will catch the ears of fans of her 2012 release and collaboration with David Byrne called "Love This Giant." Byrne's influence is still present, but St. Vincent makes some refreshing changes in her songwriting and style, and it's clear she really is a one-of-a-kind artist.

The album opens with "Rattlesnake" in 4/4 -- a bold start as her vocal, booming bass and a synthesizer lead into a catchy hook, "Am I the only one in the only world?" The synthesizer carries the melody into a detailed solo toward the end of the song.

The second track, "Birth in Reverse," is a slight regression. The song relies too heavily on the production, and the melody ultimately falls flat.

"Prince Johnny," however, is a refreshing change of pace, with St. Vincent's vocal shining through to reveal the beautiful melody. A chorus of voices lift up her vocals throughout the song, giving the ballad an operatic and theatrical edge.

Similarly, "Huey Newton" has the feeling of a ballad but the beat of a hip-hop tune: more evidence of Clark's one-of-a-kind approach to songwriting. Halfway through the song, her vocal soars to the height of her soprano range followed by an intense solo on the synthesizer.

"Digital Fortress" arrives halfway through the album in all its glory: the horn section ravaging the tune in all the right ways, from its fast-paced staccato entrance in the intro to leading into three-part harmonies for the remainder. It's easy to see why this is song has gained instant popularity; it's also easy to feel the heavy influence the Talking Heads has had on St. Vincent as an artist.

"I Prefer Your Love" is one of the strongest ballads on the album. The lyric "I prefer your love to Jesus" repeats, when finally she reveals she is speaking about her mother and continues with, "Mother won't you open your arms and forgive all the bad thoughts." All the while, the song is laced with soft horns and an ambient electric guitar in the foreground. It's ethereal, and breathes space into the collection.

The eighth track "Psychopath" uses a few of the same tricks we hear in "Rattlesnake," but the melody is different enough that it's just as satisfying.

"Severed Crossed Fingers" provides the album with a heartfelt, soulful finish. A veteran performer now, Clark knows how to write a powerhouse ballad. It builds and restrains in all the right places.

To conclude, St. Vincent delivers a body of work that is both thought-provoking and thoroughly exciting. There's little doubt we will continue to hear more challenging music from her in the future.

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