Day 25: St. Vincent — MASSEDUCTION
Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, makes music that can be hard to classify. Which is to say that MASSEDUCTION fuses a lot of different things. At turns calm and measured, just as often manic ad overwhelming, it’s an album that
Across the psuedo-cheeriness of “Pills”, wistful, nostalgic ballads like “Happy Birthday, Johnny” and “New York”, and the frenzied of EDM-referencing “Fear the Future”, Clarke shows great versatility as a songwriter. Some of the most interesting moments come when things clash, like when her soaring falsetto has to beat back the clanging cacophony of “Young Lover”.
If there’s an overarching lyrical theme, it would have to be the artificiality and anxiety of the present, compared to some sort of idealized past. It’s a sort of love letter to the people, places, and circumstances that have changed, a world observed through the lenses of longing and loss. “New York” finds Clarke name-checking the city’s streets and avenues, giving one reason to believe the fried she’s lost is the sense of “home” a place can lose as we- and it- change. Memory plays a central role, and the present is a search for some sort of missing passion. In one of the album’s poetic closer “Smoking Section,” Clarke’s Clarke’s contemplation of jumping off a roof to spite a lover highlights how this can play out to destructive ends, choosing to believe in the fantasy of floating away atop a taxi cab in a pointed rejection of our boring, rational world.
I do wish at times that Clarke gave herself more of the chance to show off her considerable skills as a guitarist, as she chooses instead to prioritize a fusion of pop, new wave, and dance music elements that show off her polymath tendencies ad musical open mindedness that no doubt endeared her to recent collaborator and man of many tastes David Byrne. Especially towards the back half of the album, the arrangements do a great job of creating and heightening a sense of (over)dynamism, making the absence of chaos after “Young Lover” seem more engaging and intriguing than it otherwise might. Like most of St. Vincent’s good work, MASSEDUCTION is eccentric without lapsing into goofiness, active without getting too overwhelming.
This is the kind of album that’s charming enough to encourage quiet a few listens, and intricate enough that I’m sure more fine details will only reveal themselves with time. Alas, I just listened to it twice on an hour and a half flight. Fittingly enough, I wish I could’ve spent more time absorbed by it, but life has forced me to move o.