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‘MASSEDUCTION’ is St. Vincent at her best

(St. Vincent/ Facebook)

Annie Clark, more often known as St. Vincent, hits a triumphant high-mark for her career with new album “MASSEDUCTION.” St. Vincent’s fifth studio album and the first since 2014’s eponymous “St. Vincent” arrived Oct. 13, and time will now be recorded in pre-“MASSEDUCTION” and post-“MASSEDUCTION.”

“MASSEDUCTION” is produced by Clark, Jack Antonoff (of Bleachers and Fun.) and John Congleton (whose production credits range from David Byrne to Nelly Furtado). The album dives further into Clark’s psyche with songs dedicated to lost loves, suicidal tendencies, anxiety, reliance on medication and more. Musically it is a mix of layered vocals, heavily modulated guitars, synths and strong, simple drums. The album is masterfully crafted, from each individual beat to the track list, everything is in its place.

Singles released in the lead-up, “New York,” “Los Ageless” and “Pills” dot the thirteen-track release that clocks in a little over 40 minutes in run-time. “New York,” the lead single, explores Clark’s relationship with the city that has become a crux and companion for her art. With a soft piano backing Clark’s signature voice, “New York” pulsates with a melancholic energy that underlines much of the album.

“Los Ageless” and “Pills,” the two other singles released, are categorically intense tracks. Both dive hard into synth-layered beats that evoke powerful responses. Clark’s facade lasts through much of each song, but the last moments betray darker emotions.

“Los Ageless” fades into Clark quietly:“I guess that’s just me, honey, I guess that’s how I’m built / I try to tell you I love you and it comes out all sick / I guess that’s just me, honey, I guess that’s how I’m built / I try to write you a love song but it comes out a lament.” Clark juxtaposes these flitting, nearly-bipolar moments on tracks throughout the album.

Title track “Masseduction” (a combination of “mass” and “seduction”) plays around with Clark’s sexuality in a way that she hasn’t explored as explicitly in the past. It’s playfully dark, with a playground sing-song intro that leaves first-time listeners confused when Clark digs into the first verse. Deep bass and Clark’s distorted guitar licks fool around as Clark dives into short, punchy verses that excite.

“Happy Birthday, Johnny” recalibrates long-time fans’ idea of who this “Johnny” character is. St. Vincent has been referring to this nebulous John since her first album (with track “Marry Me”) to her 2014 album (with track Prince Johnny) which brings us to “MASSEDUCTION”’s track. Clark hits close to the heart with this plodding piano-and-vocals track which shows that even without all the technology and synths, Clark is still able to produce tunes that stir emotion. “Savior” follows close behind with Clark profusely telling an unknown that she is not going to save them.

The back half of “MASSEDUCTION” allows Clark to intimately dive into herself. “Fear the Future” keeps with Clark’s disillusion that was made incredibly apparent with 2014’s “Digital Witness.” The track utilizes a frenetic and disconcerting pace that builds tension as Clark searches for her salvation.

“Young Lover,” a favorite of the author, utilizes a middling pace to allow Clark to deal with her love life. The track touches on the depression, alcoholism, drug abuse and failing family relations of the aforementioned young lover. The track puts listeners into a voyeuristic moment, as we get a look into a relationship that won’t save those in it.

“Dancing With a Ghost” and “Slow Disco” go hand-in-hand, as the former acts as an intro for the latter. “Slow Disco” utilizes soft, waltzing strings and Clark’s voice for a powerful penultimate track. “I’m so glad I came, but I can’t wait to leave,” Clark sings before a chorus, “Slip my hand from your hand / Leave you dancin’ with a ghost.” The song gives listeners just enough to conjure up vivid imagery, but not to the point where anything is truly distinct.

The final track on “MASSEDUCTION” continues the album’s somber end with a slight glimmer of hope. “Smoking Section” dives deep into Clark’s battle with depression, as well as suicidal thoughts that can often become overwhelming. Clark, again backed by a slow-paced and generally somber production, sings moments of darkness. “Let it happen, let it happen, let it happen,” Clark ends the first two verses with. The track ends with her fighting these thoughts, telling listeners and herself, “it’s not the end, it’s not the end.”

It’s hard to pick a standout track in a lineup such as this. Each song on the album has something unique that will put it as someone’s favorite. “MASSEDUCTION” is St. Vincent at her best so far with nary a note out of place, dense and emotional lyrics, and Clark’s idiosyncratic production coalescing into a remarkable artistic achievement.

Matt Leonard can be reached at mcleonard@umass.edu.

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