St. Vincent’s ‘Digital Witness’ sees Annie Clark mocking the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram age: “If I can’t show it, you can’t see me – what’s the point of doing anything?” It seems to be justified criticism, but then it seems hypocritical: St. Vincent released an intricate and immaculately executed video for the same song on the internet; a video was shared of her teaching the “rainbow kick”; ‘Rattlesnake’ opens the album by narrating a true story of her stripping in the desert and then being confronted by rattlesnakes. Yet Annie Clark at no point attempts to exclude herself from the society she is condemning. This is manifest in the video for ‘Digital Witness’, where she is in an eerie dystopia, but her sinister smile, electrified hair and high heels display her maintained individuality. St. Vincent’s Socratic self-awareness rightly elevates her above everyone else, frees her from criticism of hypocrisy, and helps create a beguiling yet entirely enjoyable album.
The album thrives on these contradictions and contrasts, even more so than previous releases: one of the purest love songs on the album is named ‘Psychopath’; ‘Huey Newton’ climaxes with angelic vocals of “Hail Mary” before descending into a blistering, semi-synthetic, distorted guitar riff; after the complaint “oh what an ordinary day”, the line “take out the garbage, masturbate” comes as a shock. This is all made possible by Annie Clark’s phenomenal guitar playing, versatile voice and her astute lyrics, as on ‘Prince Johnny‘, a poignant character study of an insecure boyfriend – “You traced the Andes with your index, and bragged of when and where and who you’re gonna bed next”.
For all its complexity, St. Vincent is remarkably direct and instantly gratifying. Its emotions are accessible and immersive, with Annie Clark thankfully realising that taking lyrical and musical obliqueness too far more often than not results in less enjoyment for the listener. At points, such as the ferocious ‘Bring Me Your Loves’, the extremes of St. Vincent’s spectrum are isolated as a reminder of her ability to create captivating music without antitheses. Interesting and enjoyable as these deconstructions are, they’re not as mesmerising as the tracks with extreme and daring appositions. Yet despite these occasional disappointments – the lyrics’ slight visceral realism on closer ‘Severed Crossed Fingers’ doesn’t prevent it from appearing uninspired in comparison to all that’s preceded it – St. Vincent is an exceptional display of challenging and inventive song-writing.