You and me, we’re not meant for this world.
HANG ON ME
When St. Vincent released New York earlier on in the year, it made me question what musical direction she’d be going in for the next record. The as-of-then untitled MASSEDUCTION was shrouded in secrecy. It harked back to a time where you had to queue up at the record shop to hear an album for the first time, even though the last time I did that it was for Hanson and I was a very unimpressionable young being.
First, there was a tour announcement, the video which accompanied it being kind of like if Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet came out as a political dominatrix. Belching nervously, a lot of the promo material had Carrie Brownstein’s satirical Portlandia self painted all over it. Second, the New York music video and third, the album name: MASSEDUCTION.
Was MASSEDUCTION going to be a bunch of piano and vocal tracks? While I’d listen to St. Vincent shredding the phone book — literally shredding in a paper shredder, obviously — and as fantastic as New York is, I sorta hoped not. Annie Clark said it’s her most personal album yet. Which begs the question: Why do we jump from “personal” to “slow liquor-soaked ballad” so automatically?
Produced by Steel Train (and fun. and Bleachers’) wunderkind Jack Antonoff in Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios, MASSEDUCTION is, in a word, uncategorisable. Most of the tracks are like nothing I’ve personally ever heard before to the point where I tried to coin the term trip-pop and fell at the final hurdle. If your bet was on me in the race, I’m sorry.
MASSEDUCTION follows suit from the last record St. Vincent only in Clark carving out her own place in music. St. Vincent is its own genre, and like all good genres, it’s ever-changing. In an article on Pitchfork, Clark says of opening track Hang On Me, that she’s never fit into the college-to-death life plan formula; that she’s never aspired to it either. That’s also how I consider her music.
Smashing the boundaries of the stigmatic idea that depression, anxiety, and breakdowns can be fixed with Tai Chi alone, MASSEDUCTION really is St. Vincent’s most personal album yet. Pills attacks with hard, intense beats that mirror brain chemistry until its bluesy saxophonic bridge breaks the pace. Littered with muffled moans that fit the 8 bit porno feel of following — title — track, Masseduction, the term android gigolo comes to mind.
I can’t turn off what turns me on.
I can’t turn off what turns me on is, according to Clark, the amalgamation of the record and the line paranoid secretions on basement rugs is one of the best lyrics on it. Sugarboy is like the boss fight from a SNES game on acid and, naturally, it’s my favourite track. It’s gender-fuckery at its finest (I am a lot like you) with the palpitations of being an insomniac strewn through it. (And the sneaky snippet of the Los Ageless riff, leading seamlessly into that exact track).
Happy Birthday, Johnny is about a strained relationship (or several). Johnny is That Person Everyone Knows. In an article for the New Yorker, Clark asks, “Doesn’t everyone know a Johnny?” It makes for my least listened to track on the record. Still great and clever-as-fuck, just not my style. (Though the Jim Carroll mention and use of a pedal steel are super appreciated).
It’s at this point of the story the music starts to take a spin. Johnny and New York, both heavy on piano and vocals are split with the wah-wah Funkadelic jam dominatrix Savior that fades off into an organ. The church organ is, as with a few of the songs on MASSEDUCTION, symbolic of Catholic sexual guilt (as also seen in the lyric teenage Christian virgins, holding out their tongues) and it’s something that continues over the last few tracks.
Fear the Future’s political connotations are shared around the world; its meaning could come up for debate but with mentions of walls, wars, and the ever-present beat of militia sounds too much like gunfire and helicopters for it to be anything else. It’s not a reach to say that Clark’s personal descent being mirrored in the earth could have inspired a song.
As poppy as MASSEDUCTION can seem at times, there’s something bubbling underneath the surface that ensures St. Vincent stays on the fringes with those like her in Paris with a Young Lover close to dying on the tile floor. Young Lover also possesses the brutal pain of seeing somebody suffer in what I wanna call That Fucking Note. When you hear it, you will too. If I’m also not mistaken there’s a very David Bowie Heroes-y inspired guitar part in the background that sounds like sirens.
MASSEDUCTION’s production is rich and layered. It’s a journey through the trials and tribulations of being on the fringe and the floor. The mania of what was turns orchestral with Dancing With a Ghost/Slow Disco, the end vocalist of which I’m still trying to pin down (Tuck Andress? Antonoff? Clark’s voice with effects?) but whoever the hell it is, completes the track.
The album’s swansong is Smoking Section. What I take from this track is the final part of the story (sometimes I go to the edge of my roof/I think I’ll jump/just to punish you). Smoking Section is the end of the tale. Talk of floating onto taxi cabs I want to believe is a tribute to the famous Evelyn McHale photograph.
As the song slows, the beat does too. Her vocals, repeating it’s not the end, gets quieter and quieter as an accompaniment of piano, organ and lap steel all come in to take over her slowing heart rate until the final chord that signifies that it is.
Good thing is, you can just spin the album again.
STAND OUT TRACKS: Sugarboy, Hang On Me, Young Lover, Masseduction