Annie Clark returns with her fourth full lengther as St. Vincent, on a roll somewhat, given this follows so swiftly after the collaboration with David Byrne and her last solo album, Strange Mercy. And while I didn’t much care for the album she made with Byrne I really liked the EP showcasing the feel and sound of their combined tour.
What I’ve enjoyed about following St. Vincent’s career is that you can hear and feel the progression across her albums, the slightly-nervy/nervous debut, the more accomplished, wittier follow-up and then Strange Mercy was the audacious one – with one or two absolutely killer tracks, really quite extraordinary.
Well this self-titled album might be the record of her career to date, it takes aspects and elements of everything she’s created so far – and shows that the collaboration with Byrne was necessary, vital. It takes from everything she’s done so far and consolidates. There’s a funkier edge to almost everything on this album, from the irresistibly danceable opener, Rattlesnake, on through Birth In Reverse and to the cool charm of Huey Newtown via Prince Johnny’s vocal showcase. Digital Witness has a sound that seems to have come directly from the work with Byrne, if not the album then the way her own songs were reinterpreted for the accompanying tour.
Ultimately this new album is her most accessible – but in that really clever way she’s always had, there’s a combination of quite challenging ideas (both musically and lyrically) and this mainstream pop-hook feel.
We still get the bursts of guitar shred – they’re always worth waiting for, bathed in so many effects, choking down into the song but never suffocating life from her tunes. In fact that’s where this album differs. There’s not a dud song here – there’s a level of consistency Clark hasn’t quite reached previously. And so the songs stand-up all together, they never exist just to show off her chops, they’re never buried by the guitar spasms or the setting of her voice as digital-ethereal, as otherworldly but at odds with the context of the pop song. And on all of the albums before this that was sometimes the case. As much as I’ve enjoyed most of her work I’ve had issue with albums petering out, collapsing in on themselves, just falling away.
This is the best, most concise, sharpest album she’s made. It is still bursting with ideas, but it doesn’t ride on the crest of just one or two standouts. That’s been the case with all of the others.
Now so long as I don’t have to try interviewing her again I think St. Vincent’s music and I will get along just fine.