Hadi Afif & Jana Kasab
Editor-at-Large & Proofreader
“MASSEDUCTION” comes as Annie Clark’s fifth album under stage name St. Vincent. In her most recent effort, the indie-rock singer/songwriter and guitarist is back with an album that is both daring and revealing, and in her own words, “all about sex and drugs and sadness”.
With every album release, Clark creates a world with a plethora of bizarre imagery, weird sonics, and synthesized guitar shredding, in which she has managed to carve a space for herself in the music industry as a cult leader of sorts.
With her visually dynamic live shows, bizarre theatrics, and eccentric costumes, she has become a pop enigma in the music scene, a title she further pushes with her most recent effort.
The album starts off with “Hang On Me”, where Clark confirms that the void is “back and unblinking”, setting the tone for much of the album within the first 30 seconds. “You and me, we’re not meant for this world,” she croons over a subtle synth note and murky drums. The premise of St. Vincent is thus set as a persona that is otherworldly.
The quirky “Pills” follows, with a hook that is catchy as it is repetitive. “Pills to wake/Pills to sleep/Pills, pills, pills every day of the week,” the track repeats over and over. While this track might seem like a critique of big pharmaceuticals and modern society’s dependence on drugs, it is actually a reflection on a specific period in Clark’s life.
“Young Lover” follows this narrative, as the track tells the story of Clark finding her lover unconscious in a bathtub due to an overdose on pills. With a heavy bass beat blasting throughout, Clark manages to make one of the saddest tracks on the album sound like a top 40 dance record.
“Sugarboy” opens with a fast-paced android sounding synth beat, with Clark bearing confessions to her audience. “I am alone like you,” the track repeats. With such sentiments dispersed across across the album, Clark subtly showcases her ability to write in abstract terms and in character, yet remain human in the eyes (or ears) of the listener.
This is most evident on the tracks “Happy Birthday, Johnny” and “Slow Disco”, where Clark abandons her guitar and theatrics to deliver two of the most poignant tracks in her repertoire.
“Johnny” seems to be the same man referenced in 2014’s “Prince Johnny”; however, what the listener is presented with is an abstraction of a character that they can relate to the same way Clark relates to the real “Johnny”. With softly playing piano keys, Clark immerses herself in the melancholy of a past relationship. Her mournful vocals and lyrics, in addition to the synthesized guitar tunes mid-way through the track, instill a sense of uneasiness in the listener.
Providing some of her most personal lyrics yet, Clark mentions her real name singing, “Annie, how could you do this to me?”. The track treads heavily into the realm of Clark’s personal life, leaving the listener almost uncomfortable for having trespassed on her privacy.
The 45 second interlude “Dancing With A Ghost” provides the optimal transition track after “Young Lover” comes to an end, both compositionally and thematically. The haunting sounds of violins give leeway to “Slow Disco” in which Clark sings, “Slip my hand from your hand/Leave you dancing with a ghost”. What ensues is two minutes and 43 seconds of Clark’s mellow voice backed up by strings to provide a full force heartbreak track.
Another track that highlights themes of loss, love, and sadness is “New York”, the first single released in promotion of the album, where St. Vincent leaves her guitar behind to deliver an emotional vocal performance in one of the few ballads in her discography.
Clark’s innovative approach to “MASSEDUCTION” is marked by “Los Ageless”. The track discusses the city of Los Angeles and the craze of remaining young looking in Hollywood, over a bouncing beat accompanied by fierce guitar riffs throughout. Unlike anything she has created before, both sonically and lyrically, “Los Ageless” serves as a stand-out.
The album comes to an end with “Smoking Section”, a track where the listener finds Clark imagining her death. “What could be better than love, than love, than love?”, Clark sings with operatic style vocals over a melodramatic tune.
“It’s not the end,” Clark repeats as the album comes to an end.
It certainly is not the end for St. Vincent. “I set out to make a Party record you, could play at a funeral,” Clark told NME in an interview about her 2014 self-titled LP, “St. Vincent”. Indeed, Clark never fails to deliver her vision for the world she sets out to create with each album, albeit this time with a more personal touch, with “MASSEDUCTION” being her most innovative, direct, and vulnerable album yet.