Tuesday, April 19, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 858: St. Vincent

Yesterday walking home there was an aquamarine umbrella discarded in someone’s front yard. Today, it was still there and, a few doors further down, there was a second aquamarine umbrella, again discarded. Was this a strange coincidence or a piece of performance art? The human brain will always seek to find patterns, making the answer to that question a riddle that eats its own tail.

Disc 858 is….Self-Titled
Artist: St. Vincent

Year of Release: 2013

What’s up with the Cover? St. Vincent rocks the new grey/pastel hair cut in a way that lets you know she was doing it before it was cool. Her dress is fabulous, as is her imperious pose, like she’s an empress in some science fiction future holding court. The throne itself falls a bit short. It looks like it was installed by bath-fitters over top of the original throne.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve been getting a lot of leads on new music from the folks at AV Club  lately. I read every music review and if it sounds interesting enough, I’ll listen to a couple of tracks (usually embedded in the review). I liked what I heard from this album and so I bought it.

How It Stacks Up:  I only have this one St. Vincent album, so it can’t really stack up.

Ratings: 4 stars

This album is completely outside of what I usually enjoy in music, but is so good at what it does it drew me in and made me fall in love.

This album is heavily produced and synthesized and I was tempted at first to label it electronica. However, at its core it is pure pop music, filled with bleeps, boops and whistles, all layered in on itself in a goulash of sound. It is decidedly out of my wheelhouse, but so artfully done I can’t resist it. I don’t even want to resist it.

The various sound effects and digital touches are perfectly placed and despite a whole lot of things going on, these songs never feel busy or overproduced. St. Vincent knows just where to put an effect, where to let a little guitar fuzz through and where to drop the synth-funk. Awesome and innovative beats serve as the pie crust for all the filling in these songs; tasty and supportive in equal measure.

The music has an otherworldly quality, and St. Vincent’s voice is the perfect match to the experience. She sings beautifully in the high end of her range, always sounding powerful and ethereal in equal measure. If Enya is what elves sound like when they sing, St. Vincent is what elves would sound like if they traveled into space.

The album is a tasteful 10 songs and 40 minutes and even though I listened to it almost three complete times over the past two days, it was still leaving me wanting more every time through.

The new wave-inspired and dystopian “Birth in Reverse” is a musical and lyrical exploration of the modern age and the perceived pointlessness of it all. “Digital Witness” does the same thing, but with a funky beat that makes you want to dance in the ruins of it all. When St. Vincent sings “People turn the TV on, it looks just like a window” it is a call to action for us to all wake up, couched in electronic beats and rhythms. These songs are like Trojan horses inside the technology fun-house we’ve locked ourselves in.

Then, just when you think St. Vincent is all crazy beats and frenetic social commentary, she slows things down with songs that are slow, heartfelt and majestic like “I Prefer Your Love” and “Severed Crossed Fingers.” There is desperation and loss in these songs, but strange triumph is woven through them that makes your heart swell rather than sink

Huey Newton” does a little bit of everything, with dulled out back beats, and echoing, haunting lyrics. Halfway through the song a fuzzed out guitar appears and absolutely rocks out like a post-singularity apocalypse.

I’d like to point to a song or two where St. Vincent oversteps a bit or where her ambition gets the better of her, but despite a fearless approach to melody, production and arrangement it never happens. This album is proof that nothing exceeds like excess.

I was so impressed by St. Vincent’s self-titled fifth studio album that I spent quite a bit of time checking out her previous four, but none of them have the same level of excellence that she shows on this one. All I can hope for is that everything she does from here forward is as good. That will be a tall order to fill.

Best tracks:  Birth in Reverse, Prince Johnny, Huey Newton, Digital Witness, I Prefer Your Love, Severed Crossed Fingers

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