It's very hard to not get excited by the news that St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, is doing something new. Whether that's working with a bonafide art pop legend in the form of David Byrne or simply doing something on her own, you just know it's going to be unlike anything you've ever heard before. She has a way of taking of something that seems so familiar and adding so many incredibly unique layers that it transforms into a totally different beast. St. Vincent feels like the product of a mad scientist in a laboratory throwing everything in arms reach into one big pot; bringing it all to the boil before unleashing this deliciously weird concoction upon the world.
The release of St. Vincent is kind of an unexpected pleasure, really; St. Vincent has had a pretty busy time of late so it would've been understandable if she'd taken a bit of a break. It seems that's not her style at all. After touring the excellent Strange Mercy for over a year she hopped straight into Love This Giant, the aforementioned project with David Byrne. Once that tour was done, she fully intended to take a bit of time off to recharge, only to, 36 hours later, start work on the next album. It seems working with Byrne sparked her creative juices, instilling in her that confidence that defines everything Byrne touches. It's an album that feels like a culmination of everything she has learnt and experienced since taking Strange Mercy on tour. There are shades of the heavier side of things that emerged when taking those songs on tour, most notably seen in the tremendous barrage of sound in the Record Store Day exclusive release 'Krokodil', and elements of the focus on rhythm, as well as the use of brass, as seen with Love This Giant.
Album opener, 'Rattlesnake', is a good indication that this is going to be like nothing you've ever heard before, kicking things off with a skittish, chiptune beat ripped right from the 'start menu' of a video game from the '80s before Annie Clark's wonderfully distinctive vocals recall the real-life tale of the time she got caught, naked, in the middle of the desert with a rattlesnake, ending with those chaotic guitars that made tracks such as 'Marrow' so exciting. 'Birth In Reverse', the first single taken from the album, feels like a cry from Clark to people everywhere to not be afraid to venture out into the unknown and try new things. Defining an "ordinary day" in an almost sitcom fashion as taking out the garbage and masturbating, the song makes it seem as though the standard person has become more regressive, so used to home comforts, that they have chosen to retreat back into the safety they had before they were born instead of challenging themselves. The line "Laugh all you want, but I want more" feels like the entire ethos of Clark reduced to one line; here's a woman who is fed up of the ordinary and wants to try new things - evident in how quickly she got back into working on music - hopefully bringing everyone else along with her on this adventure into the unknown.
As with both 'Rattlesnake' and 'Birth In Reverse', the second single to come from the album, 'Digital Witness' also acts as a critique of society and what happens if you lock yourself away - you won't experience running naked through a desert away from snakes. 'Digital Witness' focuses more on the control of technology over lives in a Don DeLillo meets Charlie Brooker kind of way; how we constantly need people to see that we're having a brilliant time and how there's no point in doing anything if other's can't see and judge what's going on. All of this is set to Clark's signature distorted guitars and the return of the excitable brass that defined Love This Giant. Alongside this are bubbling metallic synths and a very Prince-esque guitar riff. It's the experimentation and meshing of such ideas, both sonically and intellectually, that makes every track across the album such a joy to listen to and so uniquely different. 'Huey Newton' starts off as a slinky tune that bristles with joyful pop sensibilities, before grungy distorted guitars crash in like a car through a brick wall spilling it everywhere and taking things to a much darker place.
The standout track of the album will no doubt be 'Bring Me Your Loves', which Clark has herself described as a mix between the groove metal of Pantera and Turkish folk rhythms. It's one of those tracks that, on first listen, is so batshit insane but so utterly mesmerising that it's impossible not to go back for seconds, thirds, and fourths. With what sounds to be mobile phone disturbance hidden among the layer upon layer of rhythms, sounds, and beats, it's a chaotic mess of a song that seems so specifically calculated; a beautifully absurd exercise in contradictions, much like Annie Clark herself. This can be seen in the fact that she can create bonkers tracks such as this but also create some absolutely beautiful tracks such as 'Prince Johnny' or 'I Prefer Your Love', the latter of which is a ballad packed through with '80s soft synths which at times sound like they've been taken straight from David Bowie's 'Space Oddity', floating between Clark's entrancing chanteuse incarnation with ease.
Like a siren, Clark is simultaneously full of beauty and menace on St. Vincent. She's able to change in an instant, from the distorted screams of her guitars and her frenetic vocals, to soft beautiful melodies. Everything is tinged with a hint of black humour and, no matter how abrasive and chaotic something sounds, each track has been put together with such meticulous detail. It's probably the most confident St. Vincent record yet. Where others might get stuck in a rut for fear of alienating listeners, Clark has decided to just do things her way, influenced by her work with David Byrne who she described as "fearless", and the result is a rare gem, so packed full of influences but so distinctly St. Vincent. It's an album that, despite its placement more as high art, isn't afraid to embrace pop music for everything it's worth, managing to be accessible while also challenging, drawing the listener in with familiarity to then unleash upon them this cryptic, paradoxical world that just begs to be explored over and over again.