Sunday, May 16, 2021

Review: Daddy's Home • St. Vincent

Crass. Caustic. Pervy. Manic. Ironic. Blunt. Whatever the description, it’s somewhat fitting for what St. Vincent has achieved with her sixth studio record, Daddy’s Home.

Shoehorned as the thematic entry point into the record, St. Vincent’s personal life has made many a snappy (and in some cases, redacted) headline throughout this album cycle. Unlike when personal information was exhumed as her celebrity first inflated around her self-titled record, she and her publicity team made a straightforward conversation piece of her father’s prison sentence for white collar crimes. Of course it’s an underlying influence here – “I signed autographs in the visitation room, waiting for you the last time, inmate 502,” she recollects on the title track – but anyone who becomes smitten with the literal translation has missed the point. His release instead triggers Annie Clark to reframe her perspective on life: “We’re all born innocent, but some good saints get screwed. Well, hell, where can you run when the outlaw’s inside you?” she decides. She has become daddy, the commanding yet mysterious figure who looms on the society’s sidelines.

Previously crafting frenetic alternative rock music with hard corners and pointed beats, St. Vincent augmented her sound and image to literal discomfort on Masseduction. Those modular synthesizers and guitars have melted into thick molasses here: Daddy’s Home achieves a grander vision through its genetic origins in jazz, funk, and psychedelia. The music is still abrasive, but it plays out with fluid motion as she navigates the truth around her. On “Pay Your Way In Pain,” poor perception and daily misfortunes are translated into a dangerously lost woman: Synthesizers, sitar, bass, and guitar all compete beneath Clark’s stanzas, which fall apart at each punctuation mark to intensify her lonely spiral. (She just wants to be loved, damn it!) The sitar, some pedal steel, and an electric organ bleed down the rest of the album, rippling songs into a hazy blue mirage: Aside from “Pain” and the accusatory “Down,” which paints revenge in punchy funk, the record is a much more serene realization of her circumstances.

Clark and collaborator Jack Antonoff play the hell out of any instrument they grabbed for the record, but like the one that came before it, this record is much more than a “girl and her guitar” set: The echoes of Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, and Nina Simone all reverberate from the ceilings of Daddy’s Home, an ode to the music created just before disco took its hold on music production. Brass and an organ color “...At the Holiday Party” in poignant blues, a vital addition to the record’s back half, while “Down and Out Downtown” uses that faithful sitar and a harsh chorus to capture perfectly the scene of a messy early morning ride home on the subway. On the record’s statement piece, “The Melting of the Sun,” a gospel chorus reaffirms Clark’s fears that her lifelong truths and evergreen musical icons have faded into distant memories. Then, when she admits that she’s become part of the industry machine herself, she must linger over her own body from a savior’s perspective and suspend reality into a gelatinous six and a half minutes on “Live in the Dream.”

Despite the flat talking points used to describe this record in the press, Clark pulls a two-dimension touchpoint into an incredibly dynamic space. No matter the viewfinder through which the record is framed – the musical side effect of normality’s collapse and slow revival in the past year, an overdue coping mechanism, or a vintage psychological thriller from an East Coast art student – Daddy's Home just works. Aside from the title track’s outward sarcasm, Clark digs to the crux of her struggles and communicates them through loose production and appropriately tattered vocal delivery. Moreover, Clark releases herself from a years-long obligation to go rougher, sharper, and more aggressive, and in doing so, this music breathes – something that, as a listener who entered her career at the self-titled record, I didn’t know I needed from a St. Vincent record. And as unexpected as it is, this one is another triumph shrink-wrapped in slinky sepia packaging.

Daddy's Home is available now under Loma Vista Recordings.

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