Annie Clark’s appeal extends across multiple borders. For the better part of the past ten years and under the moniker St. Vincent, she is recognized as one of the most innovative voices and artists in music. She has been featured in Q magazine while gracing the covers of NME, Guitar World, and Nylon. She is a fashion trendsetter with more reviews about her latest outfit than her never-stagnant hairstyles. More recently, she entered the film world, making her directorial debut with the short horror film, XX. In many ways, Annie Clark has developed into a major brand that reaches beyond the independent and exclusive arts communities. She is a public icon. She’s done it, however, without compromising her individuality and creativity. Her fifth studio album, MASSEDUCTION, is the pinnacle of her craft to date that brilliantly tightropes mainstream accessibility with indie ingenuity.
Whereas her previous record, 2014’s St. Vincent, was an art-rock masterpiece, Clark heads into new territory with MASSEDUCTION. Synth-pop, electro-pop, funk, and straight-up pop filter throughout the record. Consequently, Clark’s guitar god talent largely hovers in the background, making way for sounds that one would attribute more to David Byrne, Janet Jackson, and even Prince. One thing that has not changed, though, is St. Vincent’s songwriting, which is as imaginative as it ever has been. It is also the most personal and intimate of her career.
The opening track, “Hang On Me”, immediately welcomes us into this new chapter in St. Vincent’s restless evolution. As heavy synths and beats stream in the background, Clark delivers a heartbreaking number that has her seeking forgiveness. “I promise this time it’s different / I won’t cry wolf in the kitchen / Just please, oh, please don’t hang up yet”, she pleads. The titillating “Masseduction” is Clark at her mad scientist best, merging ’80s synth-pop with contemporary art-rock. The percolating oft-kilter beats and melody perfectly complement Clark’s lyrics about people’s obsessions and turn-ons.
Clark brings the cinema to the gritty and fabulous “Los Ageless”. Heavy bass, synths, and drums greet listeners at the outset, and the song slowly develops into a suspenseful number. However, instead of turning it into a blistering rocker, she amps up the darkness and turns the track into a harrowing, intense number. “I’m a monster and you’re my sacred cow”, she calls out to her prey or a possibly an object of her affection.
Clark’s genius is best revealed on “Sugarboy”, which is not just the album’s best song but arguably one of the best of the year. Within four minutes, the song goes from a boisterous electro-pop number to a rollicking indie-rock tune to a funk-infused anthem. Its ending is also one of the few occasions Clark breaks out her guitar, and it is a wonderfully delirious moment. This encapsulation of the song is one that be used to describe an early Prince classic, yet it is St. Vincent now carrying the label of musical innovator. And akin to the Purple One, Clark delivers a song that tackles gender norms, roles, and identity.
Clark cleverly addresses issues of drug dependency and the over-medication of people on “Pills”, which comes closest to mirroring the St. Vincent of old. It is also another track where her guitar plays a starring role by (re-)creating the chaos within one’s mind. Obsession, meanwhile, is the focus of “Savior”, which starts off immensely funky before spiraling into an exotic, late-night tune a la Sade.
“Adore you to the grave and farther.
Honey, I can’t be your martyr.
Maybe it’s just human nature,
But honey, I can’t be your savior.”
“Savior” is the start of a run of songs where Clark opens the doors into her life slightly wider. The electronic-infused explosion that occurs on “Fear The Future” reflects Clark’s post-apocalyptic story of undying and unreciprocated love. The short instrumental, “Dancing With A Ghost”, is a beautiful lead-in to the elegant “Slow Disco”. As the strings build, Clark’s voice gets more emotional. It feels like a song to someone who has passed, but its message is to oneself and the life that one should have had than the one she currently lives. The finale, “Smoking Session”, meanwhile, is the album’s most devastating number. Cinematic in its approach, Clark sings about a suicide, or more accurately the helplessness a person feels as she contemplates ending her life.
“Sometimes I stand with a pistol in hand.
I fire at the grass just to scare you right back,
And when you won’t run, I’m mad but I succumb.
Let it happen, let it happen, let it happen.”
“New York”, meanwhile, offers the counterbalance. This unexpected love ballad is written to the city she once called home and all the people she met. The tender notes of the piano and the lush orchestra-pop approach resonate with the sounds that occupy the area around Lincoln Center. Clark’s soft and vulnerable voice, though, is what captivates as do her words.
“You’re the only motherfucker in the city who would forgive me.
I have lost a hero.
I have lost a friend.
But for you darling, I would do it all again.”
As much as MASSEDUCTION introduces a new St. Vincent, there is still an element of the old version. This is illustrated on “Happy Birthday, Johnny”, which is an endearing and remorseful song dedicated to someone that has long been a part of Clark’s life and in her records. On St. Vincent, she wrote about “Prince Johnny”, and the experiences they shared together and how he made her laugh.
This time she offers a gorgeous number to commemorate his life. It is as if she is saying goodbye one final time to someone who was such an important part of her life. Yet at the same time, the song reveals that no matter how much one has grown, some people and things from past will always remain. Kind of like Annie Clark herself – no matter how much the style changes, she will always be substantively rich. That’s why she’s the Queen of Indie Rock. Excuse us – just the Queen of All Things Indie.
Annie Clark is currently on tour, and dates and ticket information can be found here.
Featured photo by Nedda Afsari
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