“I think I’ve always tried to live at the intersection between accessibility and lunatic-fringe,” says Annie Clark, otherwise known as St. Vincent, on a recent interview on the Colbert Report. On her fourth album, “St. Vincent,” Clark — the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens touring band alum — finds herself doing just that. Clark dives headfirst into the intersection, expressing eccentricities in the feeling of everyday life through non-sequitur lyrics, freak-funk rhythms and a distortion pedal that certainly must be broken by now.
The album kicks off fully in this mode on the funky “Rattlesnake,” as a distorted bass slinks through the song while Clark sings about her experience seeing a rattlesnake while alone in a field. Wonky synths accompany her escalating neurotic vocals before her intrepid guitar skills take the track to its frantic end. The contrasting sounds, exhibited throughout the album, show how Clark is able to keep listeners on edge while moving their feet at the same time.
“Birth in Reverse,” the frenetic lead single, also taps into this energy as Clark takes the simplest of life’s days (“Oh, what an ordinary day / Take out the garbage, masturbate”) and unfurls into anxious pulses that dare the listener to let their normalcies and insecurities shine.
Very much in tune with her time, Clark recognizes the place where many of these modern insecurities and eccentricities are let loose: the Internet. “Huey Newton,” while named after the slain Black Panther leader, perpetuates nights spent on random searches deep into the Internet as Clark sings, “I’m entombed in the shrine of zeroes and ones.” The song starts out as a slinky, sultry synth-pop piece before suddenly twisting into a 21st-century classic rock song, with riffs vaguely reminiscent of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.”
Other highlights include the bombastic horn-laden social media critique, “Digital Witness,” and the sincere, yet still apprehensive “Psychopath.” Clark tries to persuade her lover to stick with her through her turbulent emotions as she sings, “Keep me in your soft sights / When all of the rest have moved on / And I’ll keep you in my soft sights / When all of the crowd has gone home.”
“St. Vincent” finds Clark functioning at full capacity and knowing exactly what she’s doing. Though the album could have been better if Clark not restrained some of her wild guitar antics, it hardly suffers. The immense texture of layers of intricate distortion, combined with contrasting moments of slickness, zero the album straight on the zeitgeist of thousands of anxious members of the digital age. Clark understands the simultaneous haven and obsessive approval machine of online life as she declares in “Huey Newton,” “You got the pop and the hiss in the city of misfits / Safe safe and safest, faith for the faithless.”
Rating: 4.25 stars