The Stute Music Review: St. Vincent’s “Masseduction”: Quick-Paced, Experimental Pop at its Finest

Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, is a multi-instrumentalist and singer whose trademarked brand of experimental pop-rock has been garnering critical acclaim for nearly a decade.  Her 2014, self-titled album won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album, which has led to her new release, Masseduction, becoming one of the most highly anticipated albums of late 2017.  Despite all of this, though, Masseduction is probably the most talked-about new album that the average music listener has never heard of.

During the production of Masseduction, Clark worked largely with Jack Antonoff, a producer known most recently for updating Lorde and Taylor Swift to a more poppy, mainstream sound.  However, Masseduction sounds just as St. Vincent as ever; it is explorative and curious, sounding both vintage and forward-looking.  Its lyrics cover the topics of “sex, drugs, and sadness,” according to Clark herself, and are at times heavy and dark, much like in previous albums.  This is no surprise as Clark recently broke up with model and actress Cara Delevingne—a sad event that hangs over several songs on the album. This all results in a completely immersive experience for listeners; the album clings to your ears through countless twists and turns and remains exciting and unpredictable through the last song.

As always from St. Vincent, the album maintains an experimental tone throughout. It seems as if this new project has countless influences, especially from alternative rock and new wave music.  In the writing process, Clark describes herself as “one of those people in the machine, where they pump dollar bills into it and they let the wind blow. I feel like a person desperately grabbing for the ideas…trying to hold onto them.” This feeling shines through on Masseduction; the album is stuffed with different emotions and melodies.  Emotions on the album range from distraught and longing to playful and upbeat, and most songs have several layers of production that show just how many ideas Clark had for each song.

Masseduction excels most in the atmospheres and textures that Clark conjures up for each song.  Known for her guitar playing, Clark bases several songs, like the title track and “Savior,” off guitar riffs, and shows a great ear for vocal and instrumental layering.  Her arrangements often include brass instruments, violins, and bombastic synths and drums.  “Sugarboy,” an album highlight, is absolutely frenetic thanks to the constant transitions between lead vocals, background vocals, guitar riffs, and aggressive synths.  Another production highlight is “Fear The Future”, which starts off with a muddy grunge guitar riff, but quickly molds into the electro-pop genre with a cutting synth effect.

Aside from the production aspects, Masseduction exhibits lyrics that resonate with our generation.  Clark excels whether discussing panic and anxiety for the future, or a breakup.  One of the simplest lyrics off the album, “New York isn’t New York without you, love,” is made so relatable by Clark’s straightforward, longing delivery.  More common on Masseduction are lyrics that are ambiguous; on album opener, “Hang on Me,” Clark sings, “You and me / We are not for this world.”  Is she discussing how she disagrees with social standards like marriage and having children, hinted at by some other lyrics of the song? Or is St. Vincent simply not from this world? It might be the latter; Masseduction is so different, curious, at times weird, and must be on your playlist this week.

Essential Songs: “Hang on Me,” “Masseduction,” “Los Ageless,” “New York”