All Born Screaming by St. Vincent

3 mins read

Grade: A

Annie Clark’s eleventh album under the moniker St. Vincent, titled All Born Screaming, triumphantly blends her experimental flair with her skill for adopting classic rock motifs in an authentic, unique style. Each track contains a plethora of distinct instruments—from piano to cowbell to electric guitar—combined in both traditional and experimental ways to create a refreshing, creative rock album. The lyrics provide a range of social commentary, from Clark’s experiences as a woman and artist to criticism of society’s moral deterioration to celebration of human nature.

“Hell is Near” is a psychedelic track that makes for a tasteful opening to the album. Clark’s voice takes on an ethereal quality that is well-complemented by a kinetic bass line. Synthesizing piano, drum, electric guitar, bass, and notably mandolin, the track’s abundant instrumentation and delicious jazz undertones provide a pleasantly groovy listening experience.

The first track fades seamlessly into “Reckless,” which opens dramatically with solitary piano. When compared to “Hell is Near,” this song is much more plainly emotional, with vocals that are more raw than ethereal. The lyrics seem to mourn a lost relationship, as Clark cries, “If your love was an anchor, then I am lost at sea.” About halfway through, there is an eventful bass drop involving high-pitched, electronic production and loud drums, and serve to create a sense of ominous tension. 

The album’s lead single “Broken Man” is particularly upbeat, an engaging contrast from “Reckless.” The track displays Clark’s penchant for mixing retro rhythms and instruments with modern electronic sounds. Fast-paced, “Broken Man” transitions from art-pop to a more traditional rock sound as the production incorporates crunchy electric guitar riffs. The song builds in intensity throughout its nearly four minutes, and ends abruptly, underscoring its rock-n’-roll edginess. Enjoyable from the outset, second single “Flea” has an energetic bassline that continues throughout the song. The track is reminiscent of ‘90s rock, with vocals overlying a lead guitar theme.

Single “Big Time Nothing” recalls St. Vincent’s Grammy-winning album MASSEDUCTION with its electronic sounds and feminist lyrics. The track doesn’t have a particular narrative, as Clark recites instructions in a robotic voice: “Do ask, but don’t tell, don’t laugh, but do smile / Don’t have a glass, don’t stay a while,” The track has an exciting electronic melody throughout, occasionally complemented by jazzy strumming and electric riffs. 

“Violent Times” is a beautiful celebration of Clark’s voice and of humanity. A consistent bassline and drum beat along with punctuating horns make for a lush listening experience, with lyrics that meditate on mortality and humanity’s loving nature in spite of “violent times.” The track is reminiscent of classic James Bond title tracks, adding an air of nostalgia and excitement. 

Wearing headphones decidedly enhances “The Power’s Out,” which features unusual production that provides an almost synesthetic experience. The lyrics abhor the depravity of modern society, declaring “The power’s out/And no one can save us” as a metaphor for society’s moral darkness. Graceful vocals flow over a simple drum line accented by gritty guitar to create an enchanting sound.

As both the final and title track of the album, “All Born Screaming,” is also the longest and only one with a featured artist. It stands out for its dark storytelling offset by an ironically whimsical sound. Clark sings, “I have climbed into open arms / They turned into a straitjacket,” and, “I was a pantomime of a modern girl / Those were the days, and I was miserable.” The first half of the song builds an upbeat, pop-rock concept until a climax at which all sound stops, save for a heartbeat. At this point, the music becomes more distinctly experimental, with a more ominous sound, and grows in volume and tension until the end of the song. Capturing dark themes of anger, grief, and commentary on modern society’s shortcomings through experimental rock, this is a fitting yet still exciting way to end the album.

All Born Screaming is an impressive display of intriguing soundscapes alongside both psychedelic instrumentation and danceable melodies. The uniquely authentic and exhilarating modern art-rock album encompasses the best of St. Vincent, from her often-sardonic lyrics and expressive voice to her ability to adopt styles from past eras as if she created the sound herself. The album’s 46 minutes offer a timeless-yet-innovative and always frabjous rock n’ roll experience.

Amala is a senior at M-A, and this is her second year in journalism. She enjoys using journalism to explore education policy and highlight extraordinary individuals in the community. She is also a part of M-A’s Leadership-ASB, and spends her free time at the beach.

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