You can tell a lot about people from the company they keep, and Annie “St Vincent” Clark’s previous affiliations with the likes of Sufjan Stevens and David Byrne suggest a questing art-rock spirit with a brave disregard for passing musical fashion and a fascination with unusual hybrids, inferences confirmed by this self-titled fourth album.
There’s even, echoing those alliances, a kind of loose thematic unity to the project, with several songs concerning the malleability of character and deception in the digital realm, from the sinister promise in “Psychopath” to “keep you in my surf site, when all of the crowd has gone home”, to “Digital Witness”, with its Byrne-esque uptight bohemian striding beat.
“Rattlesnake” heralds the self-consciously quirky musical style, with a spindly electro bricolage married to a kitsch “whoa-oh-oh” vocal hook. The basic synth/drums/vocal foundation furnishes a surprising range of options: the Gary Numan-style dad android blues of “Every Tear Disappears”; the glam-wave goth outsider mix of serpentine synth and fuzz-guitar in “Huey Newton”; the combination of synth line and New Orleans-style rumba-rock tattoo that gives “Bring Me Your Loves” the ironic charm of a Sparks song.
But throughout there’s a determination to find the appeal in paradox, notably the beguiling blend of cool and cumbersome that carries the love song “Prince Johnny” to another place.
Lyrically, Clark’s partial to the occasional arresting image – “Birth in Reverse” contains the offhand observation, “Oh what an ordinary day/Take out the garbage, masturbate” – but is most effective when locating new veins in the over-mined seams of romantic imagery, notably the admission, “I prefer your love to Jesus” and the observation, in the lovely, lilting “Severed Crossed Fingers”, that “you stole the heart right out of my chest, changed the work I know the best”.
Download: Severed Crossed Fingers; Prince Johnny; Digital Witness; Huey Newton