This has been a banner year for musicians willing to open themselves up to vulnerability.
Nobody could have predicted the way Annie Clark would shift and change in the decade since the release of Marry Me. Describing her own work as â€śDance music youâ€™d play at a funeral,â€ť sheâ€™s always been something of a weirdo. In that time, the line where Annie Clark ends and St. Vincent begins has become increasingly blurry; the latter persona, controlled enough to seem almost clinical at times, has been the one in the spotlight roughly since the press rollout of her eponymous 2014 album.
Masseduction, Clarkâ€™s fifth album, seems immersed in that persona. Like a less defined version of Siaâ€™s career transformation, it feels both incredibly calculated and nearly unhinged, with a sense of danger baked into just about every song. The albumâ€™s color palette, comprised mostly of bright reds, oranges and pinks, informs the tone of the album enough that you can imagine each song being recorded in a dark room, or the Black Lodge.
Co-producer and pop juggernaut Jack Antonoff seamlessly blends his pop sensibilities with St. Vincentâ€™s dark, seductive overtones, and if that were not enough, genre-atheist John Congleton and Kendrick Lamar collaborator Sounwave were brought in for â€śPills,â€ť featuring Cara Delevingne (Clarkâ€™s ex-girlfriend, natch) and Jenny Lewis. Thatâ€™s a strange list of collaborators, and in anybody elseâ€™s hands it could have been incoherent but Clark ties every last bit of grime and sheen together in total harmony.
Clark changes faces at a breakneck rate, putting on a lot of different sonic hats, from playfully sexy (â€śMasseduction,â€ť â€śSaviorâ€ť) to an all-consuming sexiness (â€śLos Agelessâ€ť) to deeply somber (â€śHappy Birthday, Johnny,â€ť â€śSmoking Sectionâ€ť), and she never truly stumbles, which feels like a minor miracle. While there are a few minor issues with sequencing (did we truly need the somber â€śHappy Birthday, Johnnyâ€ť directly after the angular and smoldering â€śLos Agelessâ€ť?), each song feels indispensable. Even the tracks that feel unnecessary at first blush become vital with repeat listens.
Clarkâ€™s signature wit is all over the album, and much of it is used to put a smile on the loneliness that pours out of its best songs. This starts with the quietly churning opener â€śHang On Me,â€ť which lets everything hang out: â€śI know you hate my hysterics/ I promise this time it’s different/ I won’t cry wolf in the kitchen/ Just please, oh, please don’t hang up yet.â€ť It would be easy for Clark to hide behind the St. Vincent persona, but she immediately lets you know where she is: â€śYou and me, weâ€™re not meant for this world.â€ť Even when sheâ€™s wrapped her angst and panic in slick beats and her signature guitar shredding, she still knows how to write one hell of a line.
Perhaps the albumâ€™s best track, â€śLos Ageless,â€ť comes packed with a sucker punch in chorus form: â€śHow could anybody have you, and lose you, and not lose their minds, too?â€ť One canâ€™t help but imagine a dancefloor of disaffected twentysomethings losing themselves to this massive, dance-rock confessional.
This has been a banner year for musicians willing to open themselves up to vulnerability. Masseduction doesnâ€™t espouse the same emotional pain of Mount Eerieâ€™s A Crow Looked At Me or The Nationalâ€™s Sleep Well Beast, but itâ€™s hard to not feel the weight of Clarkâ€™s woes. She does her best to remain aloof and distant, but try as she might, she keeps ending up in places just as intimate as anything Matt Berninger has written. Closing track â€śSmoking Sectionâ€ť is bereft of the vocal shine elsewhere on the album as Clark adopts a heavy growl for a performance of sheer emotional intensity: â€śAnd sometimes I go to the edge of my roof And I think I’ll jump just to punish you/ And if I should float on the taxis below/ No one would notice, no one will knowâ€ť. Underneath her wit is a thick layer of vulnerability. Despite the blurred line between Annie Clark and St. Vincent, she refuses to use her adopted persona as a crutch; through that mask, she has released the most personal and engaging album of her career.