Album Review

St Vincent - All Born Screaming

If she is to be known by one record, let it be ‘All Born Screaming’.

St Vincent - All Born Screaming

By the close of previous album ‘Daddy’s Home’, it seemed as if St Vincent had done it all. Early albums showcased Annie Clarke’s arthouse leanings and nimble guitar playing, and steadily her discography moved through to arena-sized pop that seemed to nod just as much to the neon pink of Dua Lipa as it did the acute angles of David Byrne, each one-time co-conspirators. Impressive, certainly, but leaving the impression that perhaps there was little else to cover; that she had rattled through every tool in her arsenal, and that the wry observations of stardom may well cave into emulation rather than satire. At such a crossroads, which many artists have met before, the question stands: where can St Vincent go from here? ‘All Born Screaming’ is the best possible answer: an existential balancing act exploring both the horror and hope of life, served cold over minimalist hits.

Fans of her early work will be glad to hear Annie making the best use of her guitar prowess since 2014’s self-titled record, whether it’s via the subtle Led Zeppelin arpeggios of opener ‘Hell Is Near’, or the mad scientist solo on the reggae-inspired ‘So Many Planets’. With this rejuvenated playing comes an attitude shift too, with something rawer and nastier repeatedly coming to the forefront. A plethora of world-class drummers have been drafted in for the record, from Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa and previous Bowie collaborator Mark Guiliani, to new Foo Fighters recruit Josh Freese. Perhaps the best example of this is ‘Broken Man’, which sees Dave Grohl driving a Nine Inch Nails-esque masterclass in minimalism. Between lacerating power chords, a PJ Harvey drawl and a new entry into history’s most iconic cowbells, this track fosters an overpowering sexuality that is impossible to resist. St Vincent has never been quite so provocative as her promise to a lover: “I can hold my arms right open / But I need you to drive the nail”.

As with every St Vincent record, ‘All Born Screaming’ is also awash with delicate, bittersweet moments. ‘The Power’s Out’ is a disaster film turned waltz, detailing murders and suicides with a tender lullaby. Meanwhile, ‘Reckless’ echoes the quieter moments of Fiona Apple, pitching double bass against piano and swelling into an eerie soundscape. And through the bleakness grows moments of uplifting joy, equally subtle if less quiet about it. ‘Sweetest Fruit’ initially teases something from the more esoteric end of St Vincent’s range, with what can only be described as a digital marimba fluxing in and out of key. Yet the track grows into a warm and simplistic sense of empathy, which captures the heart of the record. Beginning with a reference to the tragic death of hyperpop icon SOPHIE, St Vincent keeps coming back to how “the sweetest fruit is on the limb”, a succinct statement on the essential risk and reward of life.

The record closes with the title track, which pairs a jazzy, almost Smiths-like guitar line and off-kilter drums with a bed of moody synths, before collapsing into nothing and rebuilding into an operatic finale. It serves as a perfect end to this album, which is throughout something of a self-contradiction: its examinations of the human condition never break from a tone of suffering, yet always highlights a need to embrace living anyway. By adopting every genre, it is genre-less, and through minimalism serves to showcase a series of musicians at their very best. With such a consistently adept and fresh discography, it’s impossible to call this album St Vincent’s best, yet it’s quite easily her fullest, building on everything she’s already achieved while also treading new ground. If she is to be known by one record, let it be ‘All Born Screaming’.

Tags: St. Vincent, Reviews, Album Reviews

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