Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent) isn’t just a great songwriter. She’s a great song dissector, breaking down pop’s essential rhythmic, melodic and emotional components, retooling every impulse. No wonder her fourth album has a lushly distracted jam where she and a boy smash up and snort a hunk of the Berlin Wall (“Prince Johnny”) – finding new uses for old structures is kind of her thing.
St. Vincent is her tightest, tensest, best set of songs to date, with wry, twisty beats pushing her lovably ornery melodies toward grueling revelations. On the spring-grooved “Rattlesnake,” a clothes-free walk turns dangerous; the poetic, personal “Huey Newton,” named after the assassinated Black Panther, starts out shyly and explodes into mordant sludge rock; “Psychopath” is where her Kate Bush side and her David Byrne side (see their 2012 collaboration, Love This Giant) come together for a white-knuckled road anthem. Two live drummers – Homer Steinweiss of Brooklyn funk troupe the Dap-Kings and Midlake’s McKenzie Smith – help give the music a propulsive snap that plays perfectly off Clark’s chunky guitar noise. This album is haunted by isolation, dark hungers, regret and even death. But the playful way these songs contort makes pain feel like a party.