Annie Clark is an indie dream girl: a Margaret Keane painting come to life, with a voice seemingly crafted of caramelized sugar. But her second album as St. Vincent goes even further than her debut in revealing a vicious inner life. She’s always juxtaposed the cruel and the kind, and here, the baroque arrangements are even more complex and her voice even prettier, with both only underlining the dark currents running through her songs.
“What do I share / What do I keep?” she muses on “The Strangers,” then promises to “paint the black hole blacker.” Like former boss Sufjan Stevens, Clark cloaks her emotions in wiggling chamber melodies; but as with Stevens, the nagging ambiguities always poke out. “You’re a liar / You’re an extra lost in the scene,” she taunts on “Actor Out of Work,” behind searing keyboards and twinkling chimes. The natural follow-up: “I think I love you.” Suddenly, a title like “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood” becomes a question: is it her blood or yours?
Even when showing her softer side on the simple, sinuous “The Party,”Clark is overwhelmed, lingering over the minutiae of an after-hours crush: “I sit transfixed by a hole in your T-shirt,” she confesses. The flesh behind the hole isn’t mentioned, But Clark’s ability to tantalize with what remains just out of view keeps us looking.
Listen: St. Vincent – Actor