The cover of St. Vincent’s self-titled fourth album depicts the artist sitting atop a pink marble throne in a flashy gown gazing imperiously at the listener. She seems positively regal, and with good reason. “St. Vincent” is a stone-cold masterpiece and the best album of the year thus far.
St. Vincent, the musical alter-ego of Annie Clark, has always specialized in transforming traditional pop structures into strange yet accessible showcases for her prodigious guitar-playing abilities and her ethereal voice. On “St. Vincent,” she has honed every aspect of her craft to near perfection. The album opener, ‘Rattlesnake,’ foreshadows the rest of the record’s sonic style, with St. Vincent playing a complicated riff in a shifting time-signature while singing about being pursued by the titular serpent in the desert. In a press release, St. Vincent described her new music as “dance music that you could play at a funeral,” and her statement is prescient and accurate.
St. Vincent’s last three albums have been uniformly well received, so “St. Vincent” cannot really be considered a breakout album. However, the way through which St. Vincent’s new album rises above the rest of her discography is her songwriting. Every song on “St. Vincent” functions as a confessional, and she covers a wide range of topics, from the rise of technology to banal love. On the album’s first single, ‘Birth in Reverse,’ St. Vincent attacks America for its moral regression in the age of rampant consumerism, while expressing her guilt for feeling this way about her homeland. The chugging post-punk behind the lyrics enhances the sense of agency with which she sings. Another lyrical highlight of “St. Vincent” is ‘Digital Witness,’ a funky and scathing indictment of social media in which the chorus asks, “If I can’t show it you can’t see me/What’s the point of doing anything?” It is a wickedly funny song that remains scarily accurate amidst the rise of selfie culture—but it’s a critique you can dance to!
The album’s crown jewel and one of the best songs St. Vincent has ever written is ‘Prince Johnny.’ She sings about a self-destructive friend who attempts bold feats in order to “be a son of someone” and escape his emasculating anonymity. It is a deeply resonant song empowered by St. Vincent’s charismatic performance, in which she displays the full technical and emotional capabilities of her voice. Towards the song’s conclusion, she realizes that she cannot really change her friend because she, too, “prays to all/to make her a real girl.”
In 40 short minutes and 11 songs, St. Vincent traverses innovative musical territory while taking her audience through an emotional ringer. A lesser artist might have trouble pulling off this feat, but St. Vincent is no ordinary artist. On “St. Vincent,” she stakes her claim as one of the best musicians working today with this absolute knockout of an album.