The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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St. Vincent's art-rock burns bright on seventh album, 'All Born Screaming'

Associated Press Tuesday, 4 June 2024, 15:09 Last update: about 2 months ago

St. Vincent is on fire.

On her seventh full-length studio album, Annie Clark, who performs as St. Vincent, unleashes her broad range of art-rock gifts, from the crackling ember of her textured vocals to the raging infernos of swirling, epic orchestration.

St. Vincent canonized her name in the 2010s with twitchy, dense compositions. On the 2021 release, "Daddy's Home," her last album, she embraced a looser, 1970s-infused sleaze funk. "All Born Screaming" continues a trend toward more accessible territory, seamlessly spinning elements of acid-jazz, industrial grind, retro-futurism and heavy distortion into apocalyptic walls of sound.

The St. Vincent persona is a restless shape shifter, and the album art of this iteration — tailored shirt, pencil skirt, the artist alone and in flames — is an apt representation. "All Born Screaming" is Clark's first self-produced release, and she is the primary songwriter and musician throughout, playing multiple instruments on every track. The album includes excellent and meticulously placed contributions from musicians including Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Rachel Eckroth, Cian Riordan, David Ralicke, Cate Le Bon, and Dave Grohl. But this is Annie Clark's show, and, as in the cover image, she is buttoned up and executing a delicate dance between complete control and self-immolation.

The first few tracks set the stage. Opener "Hell is Near" hits like Enya with an ethereal delivery of the lines, "Empty cup and a can full of marigolds / half burned candle a picture pinned on the wall," before shifting gears into a cool groove and building to a huge, spacy outro. "Reckless" follows, starting intimate and quickly upping the stakes. She sings, "Stranger come in my path / I'll eat you up tear you limb from limb or I'll fall in love" as the song works toward its explosive crescendo.

"Broken Man" continues to raise the temperature. The song features three drummers, including Dave Grohl, and it opens with bonks and clanks reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," and the provocative lyrics, "on the street I'm a king-size killer / I can make your kingdom come." Clark's vocal command on this song is terrific, starting sultry and steadily gaining strength and intensity as the industrial-rock cacophony builds.

The album is generally heavy, but it offers a campy breather with "Violent Times." Here she channels the classic John Barry theme composition for the 1964 James Bond film "Goldfinger." The song also a lovely lyrical sketch, with Clark singing "Ashes of Pompeii / lovers discovered in an embrace for all eternity."

"The Power's Out" starts with a programmed drum break evocative of David Bowie 's apocalyptic classic, "Five Years." The lyrics and waltz construction consciously echo its inspiration, with slice-of-life vignettes as people come to grips with impending catastrophe. "It was pouring like a movie," Clark sings. "Every stranger looked like they knew me." It is an oddball track within this collection, but it stands as a fascinating Rashomon-like alternate perspective on Bowie's storytelling.

The album ends with the title track. It starts uncharacteristically upbeat, with a guitar sound falling somewhere between Paul Simon and The Smiths' Johnny Marr. It changes gears midway, building to a climactic chant of the title words, "All Born Screaming" over spacey synth, as if Gregorian monks infiltrated a laser show.

It is a fitting end, returning the listener back to the mysterious terror with which we all enter this world.

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