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  • Writer's pictureRyan ANTIART

ALBUM REVIEW: St. Vincent, Daddy's Home

Score: A-

The career of Annie Clark as St. Vincent has been one of the most interesting and creatively successful ones in recent memory. As far as I’m concerned, Actor and Strange Mercy are perfect records, stark and gorgeous lyrical meditations interrupted by blazing guitar parts. Her versatility was put to the test on her self-titled album, which focused more on cold ambience, synth magic and studying the doldrums of modern life in bright technicolor. I had the pleasure of seeing the tour for this album twice and that was without a doubt a top three concert experience of my life. While 2017’s MASSEDUCTION was a great album, it showed her at the very edge of running out of ideas with her sound at the time. Echoey vocals, chamber orchestration and angular guitars could only take her so far.

An aspect that most people don’t really understand about her career, as friend of the page @chloesevingystits pointed out to me, Annie’s father has been in prison for pretty much the entirety of her career, for his involvement in a $43 million dollar stock manipulation scheme. She grew up for the majority of her life away from her father anyway, but this prison sentence legally separated them until his release in 2019. Her newest album is her first since then, hence the name, Daddy’s Home. The title, as Clark claims herself, has another meaning. Without a father figure, out from under the thumb of men in modern life, and with an independent career that places her at the same level or higher than any comparable male musician, she is now Daddy. The title track perfectly highlights this, she’s signing autographs waiting to see her dad in prison wearing snakeskin boots while he’s wearing a prison jumpsuit. This switch in power dynamics heavily informs this project, her best since Strange Mercy, in my opinion.

Unlike Silk Sonic, this is more than mere ‘70s aesthetic sheen slapped overtop the project. This is Once Upon A Hollywood rather than Ford vs. Ferrari, it is a love letter that is equally as good as music from that era, rather than a cheap replica. Teaming with the GOAT Jack Antonoff, who’s done similarly stellar work for Lana Del Rey, they employ the use of a wide array of instruments from that era on nearly every track here. We get wurlitzer, mellotron, lap steel guitars, sitars, bongos, congas, you name it. Another brand new edition to the St. Vincent sonic palette is background vocals reminiscent of groups like Sly and the Family Stone. The opener, “Pay Your Way In Pain” is the only track on here that could have been on her self-titled, a brilliant false-start that doubles as a character study for a woman displaced and lost. She can’t get into her bank account, she gets judged for wearing heels at the park, and gets locked out of her apartment, and for some reason all she wants is love, what a miserable fool.

The rest of the record is a bunch of songs that sound the same to an untrained ear, just like on Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher, the difference lies in the progressions, songwriting and fine instrumental details. “Down and Out Downtown” continues the narrative from the first track, but takes us from modern Brooklyn to ‘70s Manhattan. Annie finds herself struggling between being grounded by love and flying high above the city with her freedom intact. I love the way the chorus bursts with mellotron strings and choral vocals, opening up like the sun through the clouds. “Melting of the Sun” has a very similar ‘70s AM funk sound but serves a very different purpose. The track is about the world flipping upside down, the sun is melting! How can that be? How can women be on top? That’s insane!

It’s such a patient and calm track, juxtaposed with these depressing tales of positive women having negative things done to them (“My Marilyn shot her heroine, at least she said it’s better than abuse”, “Proud Nina got subpoenaed…”). It’s as if she’s retconning herself back to the ‘70s where all these women got treated like shit, and has taken it upon herself to correct these errors. The mournful, slow-motion “The Laughing Man” makes a great reference to John Casavettes’ A Woman Under the Influence (from the ‘70s), about a housewife who tries so hard to please her husband that she’s deemed insane, striped of her freedom and placed in an institution. This idea of gaslighted women being shut out loops back to any number of songs here, and this thematic cohesion is the most impressive it’s ever been in a record of hers.

Other highlights include the straight-forward, fast-paced domestic abuse revenge fantasy “Down” as well as the hazy “Live In The Dream”, my personal favorite track here. “Hello, do you know where you are? You were out cold, we almost called the cops…” Annie questions, reminding me of Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd. The track further breaks down the dichotomy of life introduced on “Down and Out Downtown”; floating above the harshness of life is euphoric, but float too high and you’ll be so up your own ass that you won’t know what’s up or down anymore. It’ll just be you alone amongst clouds. Instrumentally and vocally this is such a far cry from her previous work, it’s so much more patient and spacious, which allows it to really build up to an overwhelming closure by the end, complete with a killer fucking guitar solo.

“Candy Darling” is a fitting closer to the record, directly honoring the inspiration for Clark’s new persona. Darling was a creative muse to The Velvet Underground, and a massive underground star who’s life tragically ended at age 29. This subway-to-street level imagery from VU albums like Loaded is certainly an inspiration for Daddy’s Home as well, really tying it all together. Before this, “Somebody Like Me” and “My Baby Wants A Baby” help to end the record off super strong. The former is the better of the two: it's a drum-driven, hushed-guitar backed track that asks whether love is an insane pursuit or not. The metaphor/connection between jumping off a building painted white and walking down the aisle dressed in white is a clever one that feels more emotionally potent every time I hear it, especially considering how averse to monogamy Annie is. It really feels like a window into her soul, she’s supposed to be the big boss daddy but she ultimately just wants love like the fool from the opening track. Will she fly on angel’s wings or will her face hit the pavement?

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