St. Vincent speaks to listeners with her new sound


Photo by Adam Kissick

Sarah DiZio, Contributor

St. Vincent is back with a self-titled fourth album. It’s bold, jittery, jarring, gnashing, gnarly, and it’s for you. Unlike St.Vincent’s other efforts: her inquisitive, fumbling debut, Marry Me, the fussy Garageband intricacies of her follow-up album Actor, and the organic, introspective Strange Mercy, St. Vincent is present and ready to make eye contact, perhaps first contact. The pretty mannequin featured on the cover of Actor is gone, now she’s extroverted, reigning with sounds that seem drawn from deep space and she’s not sorry.

There was a lack of control apparent in her other records; Strange Mercy’s “Chloe in the Afternoon” and “Surgeon” spin into static fuzz, and all the strings and horns from Actor build and swell but don’t really know where to go, collapsing in on themselves and fading into the dim echoes of the next track. Post-Strange Mercy marked the beginning of St. Vincent’s creative collaboration with David Byrne on their joint effort Love This Giant. It’s clear that her work with Byrne made her more confident, listening to the grumbling bass and marching band horns of Vincent’s “Digital Witness.” They’re the spiritual successors to tracks like “Who” off Giant.

So, five records deep, what’s different? This time St. Vincent is writing and making music that’s resolutely present. Before, she confessed regrets, “I’ve played dumb when I knew better, tried too hard just to be clever” in “Cheerleader” and criticized herself, “If I ever meet that dirty policeman who roughed you up, no I don’t know what” in the track “Strange Mercy.” Now she opens her record with “Rattlesnake” and we’re in the middle of things, the song is a reaction rather than a quietly tempered rendering of dusty thoughts. “Running running running rattle behind me” she pants, picking up the pace while narrating running away from a rattlesnake. She’s talking about what’s happening now; she’s talking directly to her listeners. All of her old nervous energy is now being channeled into breaking the fourth wall and she acknowledges her audience, “Oh with fatherless features you motherless creatures, you know” in “Huey Newton” and commands them, “I want all of your mind,” in “Digital Witness.” The songstress makes declarations to them, cooing “I, I prefer your love, to Jesus” in “I Prefer Your Love.” She’s ready for a self-titled album because she’s found a way to be self-effacing without self-deprecation, aware without being self-conscious. It’s much easier to want to dance when your MC isn’t plagued by self-doubt or removed through a filter of the erudite.

Listen to the way she’s reveling in her sounds now, like the haunting church choir of “Prince Johnny,” one of the standouts on the album, where she fears for the flaws in a friend while acknowledging her own, “I want to mean more than I mean to you” and lingers in the bliss of a drawn out, “Aaaah.” Never has her voice sounded more luxuriously ethereal than on tracks like the hushed proclamation of “I Prefer Your Love.” “Psychopath” is just as otherworldly and weird but she’s found a way to be a conductor for the music rather than being a conductor through which it runs. If you watch her old 4AD specials, it almost looks like she’s too fragile to shoulder the noise she’s making. The searing guitar riffs on Vincent are still powerful but now she’s a more seasoned pilot in a musical landscape she’s spent four albums engineering.

If you’re interested in this album, it really is worth leafing through the older ones too, I’d recommend “Now, now” and “Paris is Burning” off of Marry Me, “Marrow” and “Laughing with a Mouth of Blood” off Actor, and “Strange Mercy” and “Surgeon” from Strange Mercy. If you’re looking for a quick listen from St. Vincent, try the alien synthase of “Huey Newton” or the challenging, staccato romp “Digital Witness.”

The old work is grand, but St. Vincent has been reinvented, as she says on the track “Every Tear Disappears,” “I live on wire, I’ve been born twice.” A worthwhile effort from the reigning queen of outer space.


Sarah DiZio can be contacted at: [email protected]

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