Last August, on a podcast episode of Song Exploder, St. Vincent, formally known as Annie Clark, fondly recalled the creation of the lead single for her new album, “New York”. In speaking about the song, she quoted, “It’s the first song I’ve written that I thought, ‘Oh this might be someone’s favorite song.’ I’ve never had that experience before.” It’s a touching reflection on one of the more memorable tracks from her latest record Masseduction. The single is a powerful ballad with a booming chorus, working as an ode to the city she has called home for much of her professional career. It’s a sentimental song, and given St. Vincent’s trademark style, or many thereof, an interesting choice for the first glimpse of what would be her next project.
Annie Clark’s stage image is unapologetically glam, but she is certainly no diva. She is a true rocker who has taken her stylistic influences and created an artistic persona that is a beast entirely on its own. I have to admit, I am pretty late to the St. Vincent party. Aside from being aware of who she was, prior to this album, I had yet to sit with one of her projects and make a genuine effort to get into her music. Then along came Masseduction, an album which came to be pretty much unavoidable on the internet at the end of last year. I quickly gravitated towards songs like the title track and “New York”, which in turn, led me to giving the album a favorable amount of spins as 2017 fazed out.
After diving into St. Vincent’s previous records, I find this to be her most accessible release yet. Concurrently, I see Masseduction to be just as bold and eccentric as anything she has done before. In teaming up with producer Jack Antonoff (of Lorde and Taylor Swift fame), Clark adopts a richer and more synthetic feel for a lot of the record, as opposed to the rickety, chaotic spurts of instrumentation that have underlain many of her songs in the past. The opener for instance, “Hang On Me”, feels smooth and spacious, despite its airy, lo-fi quality.
There’s multiple tracks on Masseduction where St. Vincent finds a soft spot and leans on other instruments beside her guitar, including some soft pianos on “Happy Birthday, Johnny” and delicate chamber orchestration on “Slow Disco”. These understated melodies make up a decent chunk of the record, but at the end of the day, the focal point remains the louder and more experimental elements of the music. “Pills” is a noise-pop masterpiece, skillfully composed as a monstrous song that bulldozes through everything in its way. The guitar playing on this track is absolutely disgusting.
The aforementioned title track, “Masseduction”, is another standout cut that is unapologetically erotic, although only mildly destructive in comparison to “Pills”. The songs that end up falling short do so because they land in a middle ground of sorts, unsure if they want to be exciting and explosive, or emotionally intense like some of the ballads. I say this with restraint however, as I still enjoy listening to the entirety of the record. “Smoking Section”, for example, is a song I felt pretty mild towards, but in learning more about the album and Annie herself, the track has become much more interesting to me from a lyrical standpoint.
Looking back, I think Masseduction holds up as one of the more interesting and entertaining projects from the second half of last year. It’s vibrant, crazy, and like everything else St. Vincent has released thus far, it’s too bold to not be discussed. The album is far from perfect, but it’s exceptionally produced and features some of my favorite singles of 2017. On top of that, it’s turned me onto a deep catalog of some of the most eclectic and daring pop out there in modern music. If you have been hesitant in the past to dive into St. Vincent’s music or have not yet been introduced to it, Masseduction is a great starting point.
Favorite Tracks: Pills, Masseduction, Los Ageless, Happy Birthday, Johnny, New York, Slow Disco
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