Mar 4, 2014

CD Review: St Vincent - "St. Vincent"

The realm of pop music is an increasingly strange landscape. While strange usually used in a pejorative sense to describe grating trends, it can be used to describe the more ambitious side of the genre. To say the least, the artist St. Vincent has always been strange. From her days in the Polyphonic Spree through her solo albums, she has come to define a morose balance between sexual, mental, and physical stimulation through lyrics delving deep into dark corners while being some of the most memorable, well crafted songs on the market. With her latest eponymous album, she continues the trend of being strange with loud synthesizers, harmonies, and a whole lot of fun.
The album's biggest success is that from the first note of opening track "Rattlesnake," it demands your attention. Crying out "Am I the only one in the world?," it begins an album long obsession with finding identity. The album plays in a landscape of concepts about living in the "city of misfits" and loving people more than Jesus. It is a defiant album that sparks with authentic language that no matter how grotesque or atypical things can get, St. Vincent delivers each line with passionate pleas that overshadow it. She is a commanding presence and with her cries of passion, it brings life to the lyrics, making them stand out as poetic statements in between the booming harmonies and driving synths.
The album is a rather gloomy entry that is somehow overpowered by the instrumentation. Where St. Vincent has been more stripped down and classical in the past, here she comes out for a party. With each song, she finds a new way to orchestrate the familiar synthesizers and turn tales of conflict into dance hits. Tracks like "Birth in Reverse" bring in guitars and drums that pulsate the rhythm through the song and suddenly the morose nature of the lyrics is subliminally removed. St. Vincent juxtaposes energy with neurosis in fascinating ways that make each of these tracks spark with life.
Most of all, it doesn't sound like every other synth album. Even when St. Vincent sounds like she is reaching for traditional territory like Madonna in her harmonic approach, there is something off. The guitars are either a little crunchy or the synth a little too eerie. There is something so authentic that it embraces the strange and makes every track work. Even when it comes down to drums and a haunting harmonies as in "Prince Johnny," there is a sense of passion there that makes lines like "Snorted a piece of the Berlin Wall that you extorted." It is quite trippy, but adds to the flavor and the layers that makes this album stand alone as an artistic statement in the pop genre as opposed to a hollowed out core.
St. Vincent continues to embrace the strange by producing a fantastically fun album that is likely to get better with each listen. It will make you cringe as well as dance to the orchestrations that are rich in texture. Most of all, in a time when pop music remains increasingly disposable, it is a relief to have an album this lively and authentic to play with a sense of purpose. It demands your attention and the more that you do it, the more fulfillment you will get out of it. The album is strange, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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