“MASSEDUCTION” – St. Vincent Album Review
Written by Jeff Ramella on January 23, 2019
by Evan Dekens
When St. Vincent’s Masseduction was released last year, critics and fans alike were puzzled. Annie Clark, the art rock patron saint who, in 2015 rose from indie obscurity and into the relative mainstream with her self-titled album St. Vincent, has always thrived on an identity of transformation. Annie Clark, who once graced the stage wearing coffee shop sweaters a decade ago has quickly turned into a latex clad icon of art rock—a Ziggy Stardust for the modern era. And critics loved her for it because it symbolized a certain evolving persona and voice of Clark herself: a trajectory of a performer who came further and further out of her shell with each project. But the overproduced, glossy synth-heavy record which dropped last year felt, in many ways, like a transgression of sorts. Clark’s vocal tracks crooned in raspy vibrato over heavy synth and polished pop backing arrangements. It was both a return to form, and a leap into territory which had already been explored and perfected in her earlier work. It felt like nostalgia for a time that never existed, for a club scene in a fictional universe—and Vincent’s stage persona grew to the most alt-artistic, colorful and conceptual it had ever been. Still, for all the glam and glitz surrounding the album (Clark debuted a new signature guitar, new outfits with red berets and 80’s sunglasses: concerts were performed in stilettos, latex boots and duct-tape tassels) there still seemed to be something missing—the edgy flare that was welcomed in the past seemed to be repeating itself. And while the live orchestration and fanfare of the major concerts thrilled some, the proceeding press tour saw new light shed on the songs.
The same press tour for the album which was as produced and studio-heavy as any Clark had done, was performed entirely on solo acoustic guitar. With the requisite space and focus in these intimate performances, the songwriting beneath the instrumentation and synth became increasingly apparent to St. Vincent’s cult following. The songwriting is edgier, more stripped down and focused than previous efforts. Instead of parables or character-driven narratives, Clark seems to be singing songs from her own life, creating an environment in her music more intimate than ever: slow-dances in loud clubs, hotel rooms with cracks in the walls, lost lovers, waltzes with ghosts. The twin cities of and an ageless Los Angeles competing with a timeless, dying gentrified New York. Now, more than a year after MASSEDUCTION was released, MassEducation was released. The album contains an acoustic solo piano arrangement of every song on MASSEDUCTION. The result is an album whose nostalgia grips something more concrete. It feels more akin to Randy Newman’s Sail Away, or Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall records than to the New-Wave influences on MASSEDUCTION. The stripped back melodies and piano performances lend themselves to a surprising amount of flexibility—at times poignant and emotive, and at others percussive and intensely loud. It’s the album everyone has always wanted from Clark, a focused and restrained musical pause in a career which has always thrived on excess. The kinetic flares of songs like “Los Ageless” and “Pills” display Clark’s ability to be bold, political, satirical and melodic, while the ballads of the record like “New York”, “Slow Disco”, “Happy, Birthday Johnny” and “Young Lover” reveal the soft, somber beauty Clark’s songwriting imbues. Clark cries in the song “Smoking Section”: “it’s not the end” as the piano slowly and percussively fades away. Hopefully the end of St. Vincent isn’t for a very long time.
Fav Tracks: Young Lover, Smoking Section, Slow Disco, Happy Birthday Johnny
Least Fav Track: Pills