Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Masseduction | St. Vincent

Short of somehow begin misconstrued as a bigot, Annie Clark told Nylon magazine for her cover story in the publication's final printed edition last month, she doesn't mind being misunderstood. Of course, the 35-year-old musician, who does business as St. Vincent, has never been one for lucidity: Wrapped in erratic soundscapes and delivered in twisted, elusive poetry, the messages in her back catalog have ranged from satirical on a societal level to sentimental on a personal one. 

Masseduction, her fifth record, places St. Vincent in the midst of a sexed up, drugged up, messed up world and frames her personal woes as inescapable misfortunes that come stock with life in modern America. Damning west coast show business culture on the jagged "Los Ageless," she burrows into the problems it brings — an especially appropriate centerfold as we watch the destruction of a nation that overnighted an unqualified Hollywood elitist into the White House. But rather than lament on the obvious, she sews together her own experiences in today's frivolous world and proves she does not transcend the mess; Instead, she admits to being a victim of it herself and now fears what is to come.

Personal in nature first and foremost, Masseduction is open to alternate, grander significance secondarily. With "mass seduction" slurred into one word for its title and spandex-covered buttocks on its cover, the record delivers brutal honesty in regard to St. Vincent's lust, intensified by a neon-lit, leopard-printed culture: “Savior” is a disjointed recounting of role play in kinky leather outfits, while the title track delivers a double entendre on an unhealthy relationship and a toxic combination of sexuality and popular culture. "I can't turn off what turns me on," she sings on the chunky, beat-heavy title track, digitizing her voice to alternate "mass seduction" with "mass destruction" beneath its melody.

Sharp-tongued cuts like "Young Lover" and "Pills" spell out in somewhat ambiguous terms the ruins of her previous relationship with actress Cara Delevingne, who makes a surprising guest appearance on "Pills." "Pills to fuck. Pills to eat. Pills, pills, pills, down the kitchen sink," she chants with an uncharacteristic giddiness. The five-minute sonic representation of St. Vincent's experiences with sleeping medication, complete with jittering, jingle-like choruses and a spiraling comedown, wasn't intended to be — but sure does work as — a "finger-wagging" statement on a medicated society. Likewise, "Young Lover" tells the story of an addicted lover with leftover childhood scars, not to be an archetypal superstar’s portrait. 

When she cries, "How can anybody have you and not lose their minds, too?" on "Ageless," the suspect could fall not on a person, but on fame personified. As she towers to new heights in fame and mainstream appeal, having piqued interest as Delevingne's girlfriend and working with in-demand producer Jack Antonoff on this record, she finds herself wedged in an uncomfortable fold of fame. "And sometimes I feel like an inland ocean: too big to be a lake, too small to be an attraction," her voice smolders on "Smoking Section," the album's finale. She simmers from the album's otherwise breakneck pace and looks in the mirror, reassuring herself she'll make it out alive: "It's not the end," she repeats in its final 90 seconds.

Though it is her most melodically impressive outing to date, Masseduction finds its brightest moments in firecracker cuts like "Los Ageless" and "Sugarboy," when she commands her trusty guitar and zany synthesizers to unhinge around her soprano pipes. But sparse, surprisingly transparent ballads like "Smoking Section" and "New York," during which she seems more conflicted than corrupted, are equally important to the album's backbone. Because while it is exposed only when St. Vincent comes down from the frantic highs to reflect on intrapersonal issues rather than on how widespread chaos affects her daily life, her inner conflict is what hones cultural madness into a personal album that is much more socially aware than its master portrays it to be. 

Masseduction is available now under Loma Vista Recordings.

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