St. Vincent – Masseduction Review

St. Vincent needn’t have bothered making another album after her self-titled fourth record. It was labelled as “colossal” amongst other things and the mark “of the greatest guitarist since the turn of the century” said another. In a sea of floundering and repetitive guitar music, she struck out on her own with a harsh, brazen yet at times delicate sound with creative production and lyrics that struck home through its own air of eccentricity. Her new album Masseduction and intrigue proceeding it the last three years has only been matched it’s exubtrent promotion. Is it possible for her to better herself? What direction can she go in now? 

With her first single ‘New York’ there are no traces of her guitar work for it is largely a dymanic piano ballad. It is a purely emotive affair, which is something that was beat out of us in the maze of Annie’s observations and racing thoughts three years ago. The piano chords are enthused by bracing strings and a oscillating drum machine beat. Once Annie’s half falsetto joins the fray, it makes for a track of graceful progressions. This earnest and vulnerable version of St. Vincent flies in the face of her bold, swaggering experiments of 2014. ‘Los Ageless’ is the stylistic antithesis of the first single. Punching beats, lazily warped guitars fill the space around the coolly hushed vocals of the verses. These fall in to walls of washed out guitars and electronica of the chorus that are spread thinly to form an airy, but driven sound. The arrangement here called for a capable delivery to squeeze the lyrics into the shifting space of the chorus and Annie delivered with her confident warble. As the song goes on, blocky synth chords, the strains of wiry licks and the hint of Dance-Pop beats are topped with a grand staging finish with echoed soundscapes. St. Vincent has always been bold, but now she’s taken on a colour and an aloofness that she never had before and the evidence here is that it’s working. A flurry of lines describing the various ‘Pills’ you can take form the rather simple basis for what is a complex song. Surging effects and a punching percussion are met with Annie Clark’s slick and unbroken accented vocal and this is torn up for the constant waves of a chorus with jingling and shimmering strings and electronica. This is broken up again for an early instrumental that incorporates her trademark heavily distorted guitar solo that bends a new turn of the song towards a constant repeat of the chorus with a gradually rising instrumentation. By the close of the song, it has shifted again an Abbey Road style slow strung riff and here she takes on her wistful tones with towering guitars and saxophones behind her. A song about the culture of escapism through ‘pills’ that grabs your attention and takes it to very different places. 

“Sugarboy” is a frantic and unrelenting track of flashing and pulsating, buoyant electronica from which Clark exhibits her high falsettos to bend and shape themselves freely from the rapid beats behind her. These are contrasted by the pitch shifted and distorted guitars of the chorus that are mirrored by her flat and gruff vocals. These are instcepted by choir vocals jabs of “boys” and “girls” that adds to the urgency and frantic ambition of the track. The song hurls intself into different arrangements as it goes from areas with a dominating rolling bass and oscillating rhythms to sparse areas that leave her vocals to echo into themselves. It is a remarkable track that is unlike anything she has done previously. It is so many genres at the same time and fires itself off in so many directions so quickly that it is almost hard to imagine it could be tamed into one song; here it is. ‘Young Lover’ opens with a muffled dance beat that forms the canvas for Clark to throw crashing guitars from all angles with a crashing percussion that pitches the chorus as a theatrical event. This continues into several more bursts that again shows St. Vincent channeling their raw emoticon into the music and not just their lyrics. ‘Savior’ takes a different tone, with slack riffs and steady beat to replicate a cool and dingy music tone. From here the lyrics evoke sexual imagery before breaking into a lighter arrangment with vocals akin to religious proclamation. The title track is similar in its lyrical tone, but more bold with its chosen style with constant bursts of guitar and pitch shifted interjections of her vocals. ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’ is a warmer piano ballad that offers nostalgic music for nostalgic lyrical content. It becomes slightly tragic as the track goes on and this demonstrates the power Annie can generate with various styles and tones of music. Likewise ‘Smoking Section’ shows Clark cutting deep with what is initially a piano laden track interspersed with sparse, but prominent snare drums and imagery of self harm and violent revenge. This intimate arrangment is shattered by a bridge of heavy guitars and electronica. This turns into a sweeping and defiant finish to the album with the piano continuing with drawn out and wispy guitars and chords dispersing around her. 

This album is a step above St. Vincent’s last to a level unnamed. Perhaps many thought she’d never abandon the icy and distantly bold style that worked so well for her before, but here she couldn’t take you any closer to her emotions and personal events. Those songs are masterful in the way they’re written to shock and lull you into a false sense of security with musical transitions to accentuate these features. That’s not to say the bold styles are overlooked here, for they are the product of wild experimentation that takes guitar music to places lightyears away from most. It does this to the extent that it is genreless too. The only thing we can be sure of is that St. Vincent has transcended herself. What on earth will she do next?

St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION = 10/10

Owen Riddle