St Vincent: All Born Screaming – Taut, funk-fuelled and innately human

Annie Clark’s first self-produced album sees singer-songwriter nod to the influence of David Bowie

All Born Screaming
    
Artist: St. Vincent
Genre: Rock/Pop
Label: Total Pleasure/VMG

Not for St Vincent a Covid album but, rather, a collection of 10 taut, funk-fuelled songs that she has referred to as “postplague pop”. In other words, there is bereavement (albeit indeterminate) to be addressed as a no-nonsense Annie Clark gets straight to what matters with a sonic expression she compares to “taking the long walk into the woods alone to find out what your heart is really saying”.

As her first self-produced album (it is her seventh overall), All Born Screaming sees the Texas-raised singer-songwriter nod, if not genuflect, to the influence of David Bowie, not only through high concepts and theatrical methods of reinvention but also through a join-the-dots approach to visual design and magpie use of music styles.

The connections are obvious in songs such as The Power’s Out (the frisky drum beats that open Bowie’s Five Years), Big Time Nothing (Golden Years fused with Grace Jones’ Pull Up to the Bumper) and Broken Man (the intro to Bowie and Queen’s Under Pressure). Other tracks may reference notable influences (Hell Is Near is Fairport Convention meeting up with Portishead; Reckless is note-swapping with Nine Inch Nails; Flea, featuring Dave Grohl on drums, is PJ Harvey fronting both Nirvana and early Genesis), but despite the hat tips the central figure throughout is Clark, who uses twists and turns that are more carefree than obstinately unpredictable.

Midway, the album cleverly shifts focus – if anything, it’s even more textured. Violent Times (“all the wasted nights chasing mortality”) is a James Bond theme song in waiting. Sweetest Fruit, a tribute to the late Scottish electropop artist Sophie, drips with flavoursome Kate Bush beats, So Many Planets is a lilting ska tune not too dissimilar from Blondie’s The Tide Is High, and the title track (and album closer) is a late-night rave wig-out featuring covocals from the Welsh singer Cate Le Bon. It’s a cathartic finish to this full-blooded, close-to-the-bone, innately human St Vincent record that has, Clark said, “nothing cute about it. It basically talks about how life is impossible yet we get to live it”.

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture