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CD of The Week

Week of 11/05/18

    St. Vincent - MassEducation (Loma Vista)

    Given how Annie Clark's career as St. Vincent has become defined by transformation and reconceptualization of self and sound, it's something of a wonder that we've never gotten an acoustic album before. It's arguably even more surprising that last year's MASSEDUCTION would be the album of hers that finally warrants such treatment. Barely a year old, it already makes a case for being her magnum opus, but it's a heavily synthesized effort that relies less on her virtuosity as a guitarist than anything she's done before. While the newly rechristened MassEducation doesn't do anything to rival its predecessor, it does offer a compelling demonstration of how, even at their most skeletal, many of these songs remain some of Clark's best.

    Oddly enough, though the arrangements now consist solely of piano and voice, they don't change too drastically from the originals. "Slow Disco", switched from album climax to opener, literally trades its strings for keys. The title track (or is it now?) still start/stops with a jittery, low-key intensity, while "Fear the Future" still soars even with the distortion scrubbed away. Where the real differences can be heard are in how Clark modifies her vocals to suit the strip downs and change their lyrical tone. The aforementioned "Disco," now in its third (!) iteration, finds her adopting an aching delivery that is distinct from both the winking one in "Fast Slow Disco" and the resigned one in the original. Meanwhile "Sugarboy," the chaotic and clubby highlight of the original album, still sounds frantic here but also newly frail, with Clark's repeated exclamations of "Boys! Girls!" sounding deflated rather than defiant, almost as if she's overworked, not undersexed.

    Not all of the songs wear the costume change quite as well. "Pills" veers dangerously close to Phoebe Buffay territory without the Disneyfied sheen to prop it up, while the lower register Clark opts to use for the chorus of "New York" this time seems to make her disappear in the negative space this new version creates. Nevertheless, the trial and error at play here fascinates. Even at her current creative and commercial peak, St. Vincent remains as fearless and exploratory as she ever has. Now we know that she has almost as editorial an eye looking backward as she does looking forward.

    **Donate $20 or more to Y-Not Radio this week to receive a copy of MassEducation. Click here for details.
    Review by Rob Huff

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