St. Vincent performs at Stage AE Tue., Jan. 9 | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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St. Vincent performs at Stage AE Tue., Jan. 9 

The artist’s recent pop-packaged album is painfully intimate

St. Vincent - PHOTO COURTESY OF NEDDA AFSARI
  • Photo courtesy of Nedda Afsari
  • St. Vincent

St. Vincent has done very few interviews this album cycle, and the few that she has are curated by the location in which they take place. Nothing is done over email or phone. In doing so, she’s had control over the environment and the nature of the conversations. This may be frustrating for writers at smaller publications such as myself, but I’m not bothered by the lack of access.

Everything I need to know about this album is carefully laid out in the lyric sheet, and in each aching guitar and synth swell. 

MASSEDUCTION was marketed in a highly stylized way, such as one would expect from a Lady Gaga or Beyoncé album. The album’s cover, featuring a neon-pink background with Annie Clark (the artist behind St. Vincent) bent over in a cheetah-print thonged unitard, felt flashy and kind of grimy. Each music video that was released popped with bright colors and avant-garde costuming. The marketing paired larger-than-life trappings with singles holding enormous sonic power. 

It created some distance from Clark and St. Vincent, emphasizing instead this other theatrical character or persona. Not all fans were on board with this posturing, but upon the release of the full album, it all came together.

MASSEDUCTION is a record about heartbreak, unhealthy coping mechanisms and consuming sadness. It’s the closest we’ve come to Clark’s mind and the pain she feels, which is pretty remarkable given the emotive power of her prior releases. The stylization and persona-crafting here seem to be a defense mechanism, creating a healthy distance between herself and the intensely sensitive content hidden under the poppy synth work and filthy riffs. 

The piano-based ballad, “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” is a prime example of this vulnerability. Clark sings the story of her tumultuous falling out with Johnny, a character that appears on each record. Johnny turns on Clark, asking, “What happened to blood, our family? Annie, how could you do this to me?” to which Clark reflects with a strained tone, “Of course, I blame me.” 

 If the lyrics weren’t gutting enough, the appearance of a sadly crooning steel guitar guarantees that lump forming in your throat as you choke back warm tears. 

“Fear the Future,” the track that St. Vincent’s current tour gets its name from, is a desperate plea for clarity, for any sort of information that can prepare Clark for an uncertain future. It’s surrounded by skittering synths and epic guitar work, the kind of sound typically associated with her music. But instead of Clark playing narrator, it’s clear that it is Clark herself who is begging for the answers. 

The Fear the Future tour, during which Clark has been performing MASSEDUCTION in its entirety, will bring that vulnerability center stage, as Clark stares down a crowd of people who now know her fears and pains. It’s at this juncture that the most amazing, intense emotional connection is possible with an artist, and I for one cannot wait to see the sparks. 


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