St. Vincent is as kooky as ever. But the songs on new self-titled album have a new coherence that finally broadens her appeal to potentially interest semi-normal people with functional chemical balances.
It’s more than just the ratcheted-up tempo that steps this album far ahead of its predecessors. It’s a lot harder to fall asleep to, but it would be too snarky to consider that an objective plus. There are still a few subdued songs to be found, such as I Prefer Your Love (her Mother’s love, to the bible, more specifically). There’s a sparse, yet strong beat that keeps the song from wandering too aimlessly, or getting lost in its own haze. There’s also a beautiful little hook that you could almost miss in the intro, reprised about halfway in: Little baby on your knees, ’cause the world has got you down… and this moment is like so many others on the album that swerve out from the pattern and grab you by the collar before your attention drifts away.
Huey Newton is one of the harder tracks to pin down, and I’m not sure if it’s a mark for or against that it sounds like four completely disparate songs, that wouldn’t even be caught on the same album, let alone combined into one single composition. There’s the Hip Hop beat with the quiet little winding Nord lead that could get her buddy Beck singing about Zankou Chicken. Her vocal performance is delicate though, pretty. Or so it seems, until your ears catch the words she’s singing: Fuckless. Pawn sharks. Toothless… Got a big bark. Live children. Blind psychics… Are these Mars Volta lyrics? And then for the last third of the song, a big-muffed super fuzzy grunge riff comes in, behind Cobain-esque lines like Safe, safe and safest, faith for the faithless. I’m inclined to call this a win, because as little sense as the idea makes on paper, I keep coming back to it to admire the achievement.
Perhaps hanging out with David Byrne somehow had the opposite effect you’d expect, and helped bring Ms. Clarke’s songwriting closer to Earth. Her treatise on social-sharing attention zombies Digital Witness does feel a lot like a Talking Heads song. But ultimately, and perhaps to her credit entirely, St. Vincent is even more cohesive than her collaboration with Byrne, Love This Giant.
Most immediately striking is the abundance of potential singles, not entirely radio friendly, but getting a story out in three to four minutes. St. Vincent’s previous albums were more all-or-nothing types of affairs, generally. Regret sounds like In Through The Out Door-era Led Zeppelin cross-bred with Fiona Apple at peak crazy, which is quite the compliment to earn. What follows is even more impressive; Bring Me Your Loves stomps in confidently as a deranged rant set to a swinging beat and warbling, howling synths. Then there’s a breakdown, which just makes the choppy distorted riff that comes in after hit that much harder, and then it’s over too soon. It’s a song you have to keep coming back to, for more, for its energy, for mixtape fodder, for getting a day started. Either of these would make a better first impression than Digital Witness, for whatever it’s worth.
The final word here is that St. Vincent has managed to reign in her eccentricities, by no means diminishing them, and on St. Vincent, all of the inspired, layered quirks and little outbursts are holding together song structures that previously were often more glue than popsicle sticks. It’s truly a breakthrough album, and it elevates St. Vincent to a level of respect that doesn’t come easy around here.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.