St Vincent, All Born Screaming review: Lush and ethereal pop music that thrills in bursts

Annie Clark’s self-produced seventh album is smart, cohesive and refreshingly tight

Louis Chilton
Thursday 25 April 2024 15:02 BST
‘All Born Screaming’ is the seventh album from St Vincent
‘All Born Screaming’ is the seventh album from St Vincent (Alex Da Corte)

When All Born Screaming is good, it’s really good. The seventh studio album from St Vincent, the musical project of Dallas-raised indie artist Annie Clark, marks the first time she’s produced her own material. (It isn’t, however, her first time producing, having taken the reins on Sleater-Kinney’s warmly received 2019 LP The Center Won’t Hold.) Here, the result is a record that is by turns lush and ethereal, a sonically cohesive venture into slightly unfamiliar territory.

“Hell is Near”, the first of 10 songs, dives between airy, reverb-heavy vocals and layered, harmonious instrumentation. This is followed by the slightly plodding “Reckless”, which opens up in its final throes into a busy and energetic crescendo. On “Broken Man”, Clark toys amusingly with Christian imagery, while the music veers into electronic industrialism. “On the street I’m a king-size killer/ I can make your kingdom come,” she sings.

The hooks here aren’t so much catchy as they are hypnotically reiterative. Basslines jump to the fore: chunky and distorted on the punchy “Flea” (another single that truly comes alive in its instrumental bridge), or rubbery and temperamental on the infectious “Big Time Nothing”. Lyrically, All Born Screaming is slick if unexceptional. There’s wit but not quite mirth, insight without revelation. What it does have is a strong phonetic intuition; the words, whether sung at a warble or expelled in anger, are never out of place.

“My angel climbed the roof to get a better view of the moon,” Clark sings on “Sweetest Fruit” – written about the late electronic musician Sophie, who died in 2021 after falling, accidentally, from the roof of a building. The song is a rich and propulsive tribute; electronic riffs tuned flat add a somewhat spacey dimension to the sound.

St Vincent may have had a hand in writing Taylor Swift’s 2019 pop anthem “Cruel Summer” but thankfully there’s none of Swift’s wanton Tortured Poets tracklist maximalism here. Despite its sweeping, unhurried feel, All Born Screaming is a tight and digestible affair, benefitting from a selection of songs that hit around or under the four-minute mark. Only on its final number, the Cate Le Bon-featuring title track, does Clark allow herself a bit of indulgence.

Over seven minutes, the song skips from a delightful breezy indie opening through to something grander, and cadence-based; in the album’s dying moments, the BPM cranks up and the beat becomes relentless. When it stops, you immediately want to hear it again.

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