‘Masseduction’ Finds St. Vincent Perfecting the Art of Metered Chaos
Anyone who has dipped their feet in music’s muddy waters has entertained fantasies of hitting it big, of reaching those unprecedented heights that promise limitless fortune and, even more important to some, cultural immortality. But for even the most musically gifted, success often becomes more of a hindrance than a reward. When something works, after all, there’s no point in deviating from the beaten path, and even the most talented of creators find themselves trapped in an endless cycle of songs that fit the same repetitive mould. For St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, that listlessness will simply not do. Every one of her five albums, from the swirling cabaret waltz of her debut “Marry Me” to the painstakingly intricate art-rock of her last self-titled effort, smacks of a meticulous, hands-on approach, each work unfurling into a heterogeneous tapestry that defies classification. Her latest effort, “Masseduction,” once again opts to beat through the brambles instead of the road most taken, blending urgent future pop with a few minimalistic, lyrically robust ballads that perfectly hit their target. It feels remarkably fresh but comfortable, intimate yet inscrutable, and it might be St. Vincent’s slickest masterpiece yet.
The first few measures of opening track “Hang On Me” are all anyone needs to figure out that “Masseduction” dares to shrug off the sound that propelled St. Vincent’s 2014 effort to Grammy success, instead introducing itself with a sense of disembodied cinematic splendor that gradually swells and contracts under Clark’s probing vocals. The next cut, the Jenny Lewis-backed “Pills,” moves at a full gallop while a sinister Clark sings “Pills pills pills / every day of the week / pills to walk / pills to think” in such a sing-song manner, it wouldn’t be out of place in a Disney cartoon with a choir of mice on backing duties. It doesn’t stay that way for long, though, unspooling into what sounds like a power ballad from outer space, with Clark’s signature razor-sharp guitar cutting through the song like a blade through butter.
Although St. Vincent defies genres at every turn, “Masseduction” retains a recurring theme of metered chaos. A track like the frenetic “Sugarboy” or the chill-inducing “Fear the Future” runs the risk of having a little too much going on, but Clark and co. Allow the mania to bubble to the surface without spilling over. The former track even foreshadows the contagious melody of “Los Ageless,” showing off the precarious sequencing that went into the album. “Young Lover” underscores that same theme of controlled frenzy, with harsh synths accenting a steadfast techno beat, but this is no stereotypical club tune, no matter how much you want to bob your head.
Cuts like “Happy Birthday, Johnny” and “New York” denote a bit of a come-down for the album, but that’s far from a bad thing, particularly with the former’s minimalist approach allowing Clark’s story to take center stage. The latter track is rooted in an airy cacophony of strings that really let her voice soar, as she cries “I have lost a hero / I have lost a friend.” And, of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention “Smoking Section,” an entirely different sound that still works as a perfect ribbon that ties everything together. It’s a plodding cut that feels swathed in its very own smoky cloud, one the listener can practically taste thanks to Clark’s deed vocal style.
On its own, “Masseduction” proves that for St. Vincent, musical boundaries simply do not exist, and her eclectic sonic pallet won’t be hemmed into one easy-to-understand genre. Jack Antonoff lends his producing and programming chops throughout the album, helping Clark in her quest to blur genre lines. It’s hard to guess at what St. Vincent will throw at the wall next, but any betting man worth his salt better wager that it’s going to stick.
“Masseduction” is available Oct. 13 on Apple Music.