St. Vincent brings a flamethrower and a troubled conscience to the party on all born screaming.

Album Cover for 'All Born Screaming' by St. Vincent . (Bandcamp)

Dylan Masvidal | Contributing Writer

How does the saying go again? Dance like no one’s watching? 

Well Annie Clark, the enigmatic tour de force behind St. Vincent, feels that isn’t enough. 

Her show of authenticity demands your attention. But don’t stare too hard or she’ll set you ablaze. 

When discussing her seventh studio album “All Born Screaming” with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, Clark describes “harnessing chaos” as her M.O. to piece together song concepts through circuit boards and mere seconds of catchy machinery at work. 

What ensues is a disjointed yet wildly magnetizing exercise in exorcizing personal demons. 

If you needed proof enough of Clark’s sharp edge going into this record, look no further than the Dave Grohl-backed lead single “Broken Man,” which left me anything but: an unapologetically industrial rock adrenaline rush that convinces you of humanity’s ability to run through brick walls like a Lee Majors stuntman on horse pills. 

Putting aside my infatuation with the cold-blooded percussion and abrasive guitar work for a moment, there’s a revealing structure choice by Clark to layer the chorus and second verse on top of each other in the latter half that couldn’t be more indicative of her musical prowess. 

The central juxtaposition of pleasure and pain is on full display with lines such as “Who the hell do you think I am?” and “Lover, nail yourself right to me/If you go, I won’t be well.” 

Referencing newborns in the album title wasn’t by chance. The metaphor lets itself out of the box from the first track “Hell Is Near”: “Signs of life, the beginning…our beginning, begin again.” Poignant sentiment fills each lyric as they fuse with the folksy chord progression and set the stage for the feelings of misery Clark wrestles with on “All Born Screaming.” 

You instantly sympathize with her cry for help on the bombastic synth ballad “Reckless” while also left speechless by her villainous attitude towards love connections accompanied by 70s prog rock keys on “Flea.” 

It’s a testament to Clark’s ear for production that her first fully self-produced album executes so many styles on a stunning level. 

Which is why seeing her creation lose a couple screws nearing the finish line stings a bit extra. 

Normally I have no qualms with a full body of work encountering some hiccups along the road. Nobody’s perfect. These mistakes are not easily forgotten, though, sticking out harder than Nute Gunray in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. 

First there’s the despairing “The Power’s Out” who’s storytelling very clearly pays homage to David Bowie’s own song “Five Years.” 

Bringing my enjoyment to a halt is not the borrowing of ideas but rather how out of place the subject matter is incorporated. 

Sure, it loosely ties in to the album’s concepts, only to derail the self-reflective voyage in service of a gratuitous detour that lacks emotional depth. This track isn’t half the faux pas “Sweetest Fruit” is however. What an oversight. I’d like to make up my own headcanon for this song and assume she forgot how to make music for four minutes. 

Ugly, clunky boops and beeps and a piss poor tribute to the tragically deceased artist SOPHIE combine for a grotesque sonic cocktail reeking of opportunistic intent, no matter how well-intentioned it was in reality. 

Two misses in a succinct 10-song tracklist inevitably stand out when they pull you out of the experience in cringey fashion. 

Still, how can I stay mad at a record with “Big Time Nothing.” 

Leave it to Clark to get me up out of my seat doing the cabbage patch by crafting what sounds like the love child of Prince and Nine Inch Nails with a dash of Madonna’s talky vocal inflection. 

Heavenly on even deaf ears. 

Again, beats with a certain electronic stickiness paired with lyrics confronting your apathy is a brilliant dichotomy presented. Thankfully, “All Born Screaming” comes to a close with its title track making for a satisfying thematic conclusion. 

Clark details the turmoil of her journey up until this point, making note of all the “stolen hearts [she] didn’t need, but…always paid for them” and how she’s “never exhaled.” Repeating the chorus to the very end while the instrumental switches into a breakcore beat of sorts spells the message out for the audience. 

Clark wants to break away from the firestorm she’s become, leaving romantic casualty after romantic casualty in her wake. Whether or not she’ll forgive herself for her past sins is left unanswered, doesn’t change the fact of her newfound appreciation for life itself, and to that I say cheers! 


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