St. Vincent – s/t (Universal)
Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, has always been smart. Too smart, as if she’s approaching her music like an algebraic equation rather than creative expression. She’s always been talented. Too talented. She’s an operatic singer and a shredder on the guitar and loves to immerse herself in distorted electronics, and often she liked to flex all those muscles at once.
Such is the folly of youth. She’s now 31. This is her fifth album, if you include her full-length collaboration with David Byrne, on which she began to leave her head and loosen up her body. (Byrne knows more than a few things about that divide. See: Stop Making Sense.) Perhaps it’s not wise to read into her decision to make this a self-titled record, but St. Vincent, the album, is a bold new statement of purpose. (Could you tell from her new look?) Clark has always had the confidence, the swagger, the chutzpah to go for the gold and hope her technical prowess would carry the day. This time, she’s also got guts and heart and grooves and songs to complete the package.
Vocally, she soars and howls: angel and demon, light and dark. Sonically, her beats are as dirty as Skrillex. Her guitar playing is as electric sensual as Prince, and she runs it through every electronic treatment imaginable. She’s got heavy metal chops when she needs them. She summons bold brass sections to punch through the chaos. None of it makes much sense together the first time you hear it. Clark demands that you listen closely. And you do. Then she dials everything down several notches for a killer ballad, not once but three times—including a tender number titled "Severed Crossed Fingers." All the while, she tosses out lyrics like, “Remember the time we went and snorted / a piece of the Berlin wall that you'd extorted / And we'd had such a laugh of it / Prostrate on my carpet.” Or, more directly: “Oh what an ordinary day / take out the garbage, masturbate.”
Clark’s latest round of publicity pics show her with shock-white dyed hair, looking a bit like the Bride of Frankenstein. She looks glammed up and larger than life, both sexy and scary, otherworldly. As she should. This music couldn’t be delivered any other way—or by anybody else.
Download: “Digital Witness,” “Prince Johnny,” “Psychopath”
Neneh Cherry – Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound)
Carte blanche, indeed. Neneh Cherry was a pop star in the late ’80s and mid-’90s but her last album was made with a Scandinavian free jazz band, her biggest hit was a duet with Youssou N’Dour, and she helped bankroll the birth of Massive Attack and Portishead. Her new album, her first solo album in 18 years, was produced by Kieran Hebden, a.k.a. FourTet, a musician known for esoteric electronica who has also made albums with African jazz drummers and Syrian pop singers. What on Earth would Cherry and Hebden come up with together?
Opening track "Across the Water" plays their cards close to their chests: with just two drums and Cherry’s captivating voice, one so rich with emotional resonance that it requires no accompaniment whatsoever. While Hebden’s electronics drive much of the rest of Blank Project, every song could work just as well were Cherry to sing them a cappella. Cherry has always done whatever she wants to. This is no different. Here she goes from a funky duet with Swedish superstar Robyn to ominous torch songs to reggae-influenced electronics to furious rock songs delivered with only two synth parts and a drum kit.
She closes the album with the chorus: “Everything is everything and good things come to those who wait.” Point proven.
Download: "Out of the Black" (feat. Robyn), "Across the Water," "Blank Project"