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Friday, February 21, 2014

Album Review: St. Vincent - St. Vincent

Album Rating: A
When an artist embarks on a run like Annie Clark's at present, their momentum can almost seem harder to halt than it is to maintain, at least to those of us on the outside. On those grounds, the fact the 31-year-old Oklahoman's fourth LP is such a resounding knockout triumph actually doesn't come as that big a surprise, but that shouldn't for one moment undermine the exuberance and mastery housed within its 40-minutes - nor that it's her finest work to date, and that by a considerable margin.

With critical adulation and heaps of fresh exposure surely in the offing, it's tempting to rave of the wonders St. Vincent could do for Clark's already burgeoning career, yet what's equally satisfying is that she teeters on the brink of all this having relinquished nary an inch of individuality. Indeed, if a wider breakthrough is to come calling it'll be left to knock on her door, as this is an album which deals in expert refinement as opposed to drastic progression or stylistic curveballs. As such, the deviations found here aren't so much amendments as they are shuffles, with sonic oddities especially remaining prevalent yet reigned into a backseat role, allowing the breathing space in which Clark's writing can full flourish. This is reflected not only by the abundance of ballads in St. Vincent's 11 tracks, but also by their immediate potency; an accessible edge that's raised its head before, though never in such an extreme or direct manner.

Speaking of directness, the record's opening duo, "Rattlesnake" and "Birth in Reverse" could scarcely be more businesslike in demeanor. Stuttering seductively into earshot, the former's irresistible scrappy funk sets the scene perfectly for a jaunt of seductive grooves and boxed-up energy, while the latter expels a portion of that zeal in a show of thrashy thrills and sizzling dynamism. Perhaps unsurprisingly, remnants of 2012's profile-boosting stint with David Byrne are also in evidence, most notably on "Digital Witness," whose bubbly brass essentially eclipses the entirety of Love This Giant in three buoyant and utterly brilliant minutes. Dextrous yet playful, it's rivaled only by the polished electro of "Psychopath" as the album's foremost pop moment, but their platform is shared by perhaps most striking displays of all: the aforementioned ballads.

Laced with a dreamy, almost romantic quality rarely heard in her music, "Prince Johnny" and "Severed Crossed Fingers" swoon on tranquil, uncluttered waters, constructing themselves around Clark's unflappably assured vocals, and in the latter's case a gorgeous synth waltz which cuts proceedings with a sublime heartfelt flurry. The crown jewel, however, appears mid-album in the form of "I Prefer Your Love," which takes the same aesthetic and infuses it with a dose of ethereal spirituality - think Enya, mixed with The X-Files theme.

These outstanding moments will, of course, see St. Vincent hailed as an instant classic, album of the year, yabba yabba yabba, but really, who honestly cares? Over that past month or so, I've found the times I've enjoyed it most have been those when I've abandoned analysis and instead taken it for what it is; a stellar alternative pop record, brimming with ideas, artistic energy, and not least a store of truly sensational songs. This, rather than lists and accolades, is what music and the thrill of experiencing to it are all about, and what makes St. Vincent such a vital and neigh on essential listen.

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St. Vincent is released on 24 February. You can stream the record in its entirety here.

Tracklist

1. Rattlesnake
2. Birth in Reverse
3. Prince Johnny
4. Huey Newton
5. Digital Witness
6. I Prefer Your Love
7. Regret
8. Bring Me Your Loves
9. Psychopath
10. Every Tear Disappears
11. Severed Crossed Fingers


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