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St Vincent tackles terrifying internal depths on All Born Screaming

"All Born Screaming"

Release date: 26 April 2024
St Vincent All Born Screaming cover
25 April 2024, 12:00 Written by Tom Williams

Annie Clark’s music as St. Vincent has always been carefully pitched between chaos and control.

Across her first five solo LPs, released between 2007 and 2017, she proved herself to be a singularly talented guitarist capable of unleashing hair-raising solos, like on 2011’s “Surgeon”, while alternately compiling her music in pristine chamber pop packages (2007’s Marry Me), art-rock (2014’s St. Vincent) and glam-inflected pop-rock (2017’s Masseduction). On her last effort, 2021’s Daddys Home, Clark took a sharp turn towards psychedelic rock. While unfairly labelled a misfire in the years since its release, the album stands out from the rest of Clark’s discography - foreign sounding compared to previous releases while containing some of her most autobiographical confessions.

On her newest full-length All Born Screaming Clark returns to a more characteristically angular and bombastic sound while mining the recesses of her psyche. “This is the sound of the inside of my mind”, said Clark recently in an interview. It’s a bold promise from a figure who, in our current age of hyper-authenticity, has been famously inscrutable.

On lead single “Broken Man”, Clark fully delivers on her promise, giving voice to intense, primal, id-led desires as she displays stalkerish desperation, shakily crooning, “Lover nail yourself right to me / If you go I won’t be well”. The single showcases the best synergy between the lyrical intensity, vocal delivery and wider sonics. Clark’s frenzied guitar work is simpatico with Dave Grohl’s pounding drumming, and Clark’s voice moves from a breathy wail to a feral raspy cry. Capturing the paranoia of a nervous breakdown, she spits, “Hey! What are you looking at / Who the hell do you think I am… Like you’ve never seen a broken man”.

Compared to pre-release singles – "Broken Man", as well as another pounding Grohl-assisted anthem, “Flea” – All Born Screaming is surprisingly multi-dimensional. Opener “Hell is Near” contains long, luscious psychedelic passages a la Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, which clearly bear the fingerprints of collaborator Cate Le Bon, while the funky “Big Time Nothing” sees Clark adopt an ironic, detached sing-speak as she addresses the weight of expectations (“don’t kid / Don’t blame, don’t snap, insane, don’t crack, don’t act your age”). On “Sweetest Fruit” she offers a sincere, loving reprise as she pays tribute to the innovative producer Sophie who died in a fall in 2021 after climbing her rooftop to get a better view of the sky. “My Sophie climbed the roof to get a better view of the moon / My God, then one wrong stair took her down to the depths / But for a minute what a view”, croons Clark.

Admittedly, All Born Screaming could probably do with a few more moments like “Sweetest Freet” and “Hell Is Near”. The LP’s default setting is a wall of noise, and overbearing synths and drums can occasionally drown out the distinctiveness of Clark’s preternatural guitar talents. Yet, there’s no doubt the album is a success, still emerging as a body of work that could only have been conceived and executed as such by Clark. Like Portishead’s Dummy, Cat Power’s Moon Pix or Nine Inch Nail’s Pretty Hate Machine, All Born Screaming demonstrates a rare excellence at setting and maintaining mood. It is the sound of being left alone with one’s own mind, and though the album traverses different sounds, collaborators and motifs, it never lets up from exposing the potential for terror inherent in such a reality.

All Born Screaming closes with its title track – a seven-minute compositional masterpiece that ranks among Clark’s finest works to date. Beginning with an ironic pep in its step, Clark soon unleashes the gnarliest imagery she can come up with off the cuff (“I feel like graffiti on a urinal in an abattoir”). Over brooding bass, synths and drums, Clark references classic standards (Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, Sleater-Kinney’s “Modern Girl”) to reinforce the sense of being a stranger to herself. Later, Clark admits, “in my whole damn life I had never exhaled.” This is the sound of releasing a lifetime’s worth of strife and unease. That sounds, it turns out, is pretty damn excellent.

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