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St. Vincent Lays Bare in ‘Masseduction’

4 STARS

"Masseduction" by St. Vincent
"Masseduction" by St. Vincent, Loma Vista Recordings, 2017.

“‘Masseduction’ is different, it's pretty first person,” wrote Annie Clark, better known by her stage name, St. Vincent, about her fifth album in a press release. “You can't fact-check it, but if you want to know about my life, listen to this record.” That is certainly a bold claim, but the album does not spare details, whether they be in the lyrics, the backgrounds, or the samples.

Clark weaves fascinating synth-pop beats and vocal acrobatics into a musical potpourri that acts as a sonic backdrop for her to come to grips with anger, loneliness, drug use, fame, and grief. Although some of the tracks seem repetitive at times, and some of her lyrics border on cliché, there is enough subtlety and variation, thematically and musically, to keep the work engaging throughout the album’s 42-minute duration. Similar in many ways to St. Vincent’s previous delightfully eccentric and unusual forays into pop, “Masseduction” still manages to improve upon Clark’s previous successes by incorporating raw, deeper lyrics and new sounds into an expressive and thoughtfully articulate album.

“Masseduction” opens with “Hang On Me,” a synth-inspired track on which Clark sings, “You and me / Weren’t meant for this world” over electronic modulations and a violin sample. There is no bang, no exciting intro—this track leaves out much of the theatrics of the rest of the album, perhaps a somber reflection on what it means to be an artist with the eccentricities Clark has.

The second track on the album, the single “Pills,” blends pop refrains, hip-hop beats from producer Sounwave, and electronic interludes for a chorus that sounds like something out of a 1960s commercial jingle (“Pills to wake, pills to sleep / Pills, pills, pills every day of the week”). Yet, about halfway through the song, she switches to a gloomy, glam-pop sound as she sings, “Come all you wasted, wretched, and scorned / Come on and face it, come join the war,” as if inviting the listener to relish in the album’s quirks and surprises. If “Hang On Me” subtly introduces the album’s themes, “Pills” makes them explicit.

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“Los Ageless” opens with a beat vaguely resembling something out of an LCD Soundsystem album, but quickly transitions to glamorous synth-pop as she sings, “How could anyone have you and lose you / And not lose their minds too.” For all the glamorous sounds, dramatic vocals, and big hooks on this track, like many others in this album, themes of love and loss still percolate to the surface.

Clark intersperses the upbeat, synth music on the album with sad nostalgia and emotional lyricism. In “Happy Birthday Jonny,” perhaps one of the most personal tracks on the album, Clark recalls an ex-lover over a solemn piano chord progression. Yet the piece is about moving on, and coming to grips with loss. Likewise, two tracks later in “New York,” Clark appears to return to longing sounds and nostalgic lyrics (“I have a lost a hero / I have lost a friend / But for you darling / I’d do it all again”).

The album concludes with “Slow Dance” and “Smoking Section.” “Slow Dance” has a violin-infused melody and lyrics that contemplate running to and fro in the modern world (“Am I thinking what everybody’s thinking / That I’m so glad I came, but I can’t wait to leave?”). Clark juxtaposes slowed tempo, and, as the lyrics suggest, a disco-esque background, with lyrics about hurriedness, about restlessness and anxiety about getting from point A to point B. In “Smoking Section,” Clark concludes the album with a reflective outro, singing, “Let it happen, let it happen, let it happen,” à la Kevin Parker, but also noting that “it’s not the end,” a fitting way to cap off an album about journeys not yet begun or finished.

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