St. Vincent : All Born Screaming

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St. Vincent All Born Screaming review

St. Vincent’s seventh album, the self-produced All Born Screaming, balances romanticism with dark images of death and sacrifice. Songwriter, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark reaches across genres on her seventh album in search of common threads and to pay homage to musicians she admires. Evoking romance through music is certainly one of St. Vincent’s strong points; consider “The Power’s Out.” Soothing waves of synth and electronic beats flow with Clark’s delicate, grandiose double-tracked vocals as a guide. Clark, a guitar virtuoso, bends the notes in slow, deeply spaced ripples.

Experiencing someone else’s personal catharses, love and pain through the osmosis of repeated track listening can invoke mysterious feelings, like we’ve achieved our own personal enlightenment just by pressing play. That was Clark’s intention: All Born Screaming was written in the wake of “literal life and death,” as she said in an interview with The Guardian. She wanted to further explore how one comes back from loss of any kind, and not just survives, but thrives.

All Born Screaming, she says, simply “means you’re breathing. You’re alive.” As she sees it, being born is an organic form of protest. It means experiencing an onslaught of emotions that can sustain you, propel you forward, or just sink you—the very definition of living. “It’s terrifying to be alive. It’s ecstatic to be alive. It’s everything,” she explains. True to her catalog, this 10-track album mashes up genres like indie, jazz, rock and ska, while adding electronic, industrial and dance influences. Themes like religion, loss, and discovery are connected and carried from one song to the next.

The ominously titled “Hell Is Near” opens the album with an easily accessible synth pop melody and angelic tones. From the top, Clark’s ethereal whispers imply she’s a chaste church singer, but the song’s ethereal moving parts sound a little like Radiohead’s “Decks Dark.” “Reckless,” about the death of a lover who has been diffused around her in an airy mist, feels like a second introduction to the album and a premonition. It takes a thoughtful, darker tone, channeling a feminine vocal grit similar to PJ Harvey. True to the song’s initial notes, the mood changes and becomes chaotic and foreboding. Wobbly bass notes and warped cataclysmic visions run lockstep alongside feelings of passion and loss. She’s adrift, yet trying to mourn his death as “the riders” now call to her. Death is on her own doorstep, a possible callback to the angels who were waiting in the wings just minutes before.

The deconstructed single “Broken Man” lays bare bold, darkly sexual vocals, lush and sinful. Subverting gender, and exhibiting male pretension, Clark envisions herself as a man falling apart and screaming for attention. “What are you looking at / who the hell do you think I am,” she demands. The song uses robotic, harsh Nine Inch Nails-like percussion and heavy guitar riffs without losing its identity as a seductive, driving dance tune. Religious references this time recall Jesus’ crucifixion. “Lover, nail yourself right to me,” she commands.

The gruff guitar riff and bouncy beat on “Flea” again follows the lead of “Broken Man” but with a healthy dose of carnage. “I look at you and all I see is meat,” she says. This marriage of sleaze, sex and decadence brings up images from Lorde’s debut single, “Royals”—diamonds and jewels adorning a bloody prom dress, mascara running down the face. A parasite, Clark declares, “Once I’m in you can’t get rid of me.” “Flea” is an invasion turned domination.

The chunky stomp and electronic bass of the moody “Big Time Nothing” contains lyrical twists similar to “Numb,” one of the oddities from U2’s Zooropa, with lighthearted rhymes with elements of absurdity and truth. But where that band meant to inspire introspection and growth, St. Vincent just feels “nothing.” Clark looks inward and finds the cupboard bare. “Violent Times” switches gears and experiments by adding John Barry-like symphonic grandiosity, while “The Power’s Out” borrows from the slow, building beat of David Bowie’s “Five Years.” She lets loose with a diatribe on media and violence in media, where the degradation of humanity is always televised. Even with the most dystopian lyrics, this may be the most romantic song here.

The celebratory “Sweetest Fruit” is dedicated to SOPHIE. Though St. Vincent had never met the late songwriter and DJ, she felt her influence enough that she felt the need to memorialize her. The electronics-heavy song merges warped brass notes and layered, feminine yet masculine vocals. “The sweetest fruit is on the limb,” she sings as a reminder that once delicate life is lost, treasures within can be easily cut from the source of its power. Only one track feels instantly out of place in musicality and tone. The reggae-ska beat on “So Many Planets” is an environmental lamentation on global warming set against a whimsical tone, but it isn’t fully believable and is more like an unfortunate blip.

The bright, closing title track at first runs counter to Clark’s feelings of loss and being out of control, but later reminds us of the undeniable truth that everyone is just trying to stay afloat. “We’re all born screaming,” she says against a background stacked with sound. She doubles down on the notion as metallic drums grind and momentum finally runs out.

Label: Total Pleasure/Virgin

Year: 2024

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St. Vincent All Born Screaming review

St. Vincent: All Born Screaming

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