There is something more bold and visceral about this St. Vincent record. Even Annie Clark’s melodious voice contains a greater degree of richness of tone and confidence in delivery than she displayed on her previous four very fine albums. What Clark had pretty much mastered for 2009’s Actor, the full integration of synth and her powerful, even edgy, guitar work, she brings back for this set of songs. But with that comes the keen ear for emotional colorings and atmospheres that she had employed for Strange Mercy. Not to mention the textures and expertly placed percussion that she and David Byrne used extensively on their 2012 collaborative album Love This Giant.
From opening track, “Rattlesnake,” Clark and her collaborators establish an almost seething alchemy of the gritty and the otherworldly, the organic and the clearly synthetic. Clark isn’t the first person to do this and on “Digital Witness” the vibe is reminiscent of Eurythmics and Grace Jones in their prime. But to do so in a way that doesn’t immediately you remind you of another artist in the songwriting itself. These days, that’s remarkable in itself.
“I Prefer Your Love” is more like the lush and ethereal production which we heard on Strange Mercy but the first line, the charmingly irreverent “I prefer your love to Jesus,” is a single statement summation of how Clark is separating herself from expectations of a softer, more sensitive side of her earlier songwriting–something more, in some senses, more commercially palatable–and embracing her current ability and opportunity to speak even to the most intimate and fearful subjects with a self-possession without bravado.
The sonic dynamism on “Regret” and “Bring Me Your Love” is like Clark is trying to use digital to mimic an analog sensibility in true cut-up and thought-provokingly reassembled mode. Then again, that seems to be underlying aesthetic of this entire album. What makes it work is that it makes all the songs so present and vibrant, urgent.
Clark does allow herself some playful moments of guitar and keyboard interplay on “Every Tear Disappears” and in a moment in the middle it sounds like she’s teasing a moment of The Residents’ “Sinister Exaggerator.” Probably absolutely a coincidence in composing the progression but it is symbolic of how Clark has a real knack for bringing together experimental elements and an idiosyncratic pop idiom with an ear for accessible composition. The album closer, “Severed Crossed Fingers,” is the most musically conventional song of the lot but there is nothing run-of-the-mill with how Clark turns the pain, anxiety and personal darkness heard in her voice into a song that might just transmogrify all of that into at least a moment of acceptance and peace. With this self-titled album, Annie Clark has take everything she has learned along the way and fused it with the self-assurance of a mature artist and produced the kind of work that is devoid of the tentativeness and insecurity many artists with less developed creativity and imagination often wear as a badge.