Roundtable Discussion: A Review of St. Vincent’s ‘All Born Screaming’

St. Vincent 'All Born Screaming' © Alex Da Corte
St. Vincent 'All Born Screaming' © Alex Da Corte
Atwood Magazine’s writers unpack St. Vincent’s latest electrifying opus, ‘All Born Screaming,’ exploring the visceral storytelling and personal depth of the album, reflecting on the artist’s striking eccentricities and shape-shifting abilities, and leaving no question why Annie Clark remains a formidable force in modern music.
Featured here are Atwood writers Christine Buckley, Emma Rayder, Eric Schuster, Jake Fewx, and Josh Weiner!

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To start, what is your relationship with St. Vincent’s music?

Josh: Before 2022, the name St. Vincent would have made me think of many non-musical things– some Renaissance art, maybe? Or one of the two saints in LeBron James’ high school’s name, along with St. Mary?– before anything musical. But then the singer St. Vincent was one of two openers, along with Thundercat, that I saw at the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ concert at Fenway Park in September of that year. While it’s hard to deny that RHCP was the act I’ll best remember that night for– especially since I had been a fan of theirs since middle school and had never seen them before until that night– my memory of that evening was enhanced by the fact that St. Vincent did an absolutely stellar job in her opening set and nicely set the stage for the rock extravaganza to follow.

That evening, I was introduced to St. Vincent and have been a supportive fan ever since. I’m glad to see she is back with another album and that it seems to have broadly been well-received.

Emma: My relationship with St. Vincent’s music was fairly surface level until I offered to write Atwood’s album review for All Born Screaming. I had a few of her songs on older playlists, but did not know much about Annie Clark as a person or artist until I spent a week doing a deep dive in preparation for my piece. Clark is a phenomenal guitarist, singer/songwriter, and producer–I strongly believe that she will be remembered as one of the greatest artists of her generation. I’m fascinated by the many phases and faces of St. Vincent, but I’m glad that I was able to start from scratch and work my way back from All Born Screaming. I think that her previous albums are made even better in the context of her latest album, where she reveals more of Annie Clark.

Eric: I was living in Brooklyn in 2017 when Masseducation was released. Some of my friends mentioned the album, but I never got around to listening to it. It wasn’t until I saw St. Vincent on Saturday Night Live in 2021 while promoting Daddy’s Home that I became truly enveloped in St. Vincent’s talent. It didn’t take much research to recognize her impressive discography and musical talent. Berklee School of Music, touring with Surfjan Stevens, and collaborating with established veterans early on her music career who probably realized that St. Vincent was a prodigy in the making. I agree with Emma in that I think she will be remembered as one of the greatest artists of our generation, even if her streaming numbers may not show it. Those who are tuned in to the music scene appreciate her remarkable talents—as evident by her numerous television appearances and collaborations.

Jake: I first got into St. Vincent about 8 or 9 years ago after seeing her eponymous album get some buzz online and I fell in love with it immediately. There’s a quality to her music that draws me in; it’s playful and uber thoughtful without sacrificing the ear-wormy qualities. Needless to say, St. Vincent quickly became a personal favorite of mine. Annie Clark is without a doubt one of the most creative pop artists of our lifetime who deserves to be discussed amongst the greats. Nothing sounds like St. Vincent except St. Vincent.

Christine: Would you believe that this is the first St. Vincent album I’ve listened to? I have heard the odd song and her name in popular culture, but never sat down to listen front-to-back to any of her stuff. On the one hand I could kick myself, but on the other she’s so prolific that now I’ve having the best time reliving her career a decade late.

St. Vincent © Alex Da Corte
St. Vincent © Alex Da Corte

What are your initial impressions and reactions to All Born Screaming?

Emma: All Born Screaming is a lot to take in. I listened to the album probably 15 times all the way through during the week following its release, while I was writing my review. I think I could listen to it again this week and have entirely different reactions to each song. It’s an exercise in time travel, with genre-bending songs that spans ’90s trip-hop and ’70s disco. The opening track, “Hell is Near,” is the perfect portal for listening–it’s both a prelude that sets the tone for the remainder of the album and an incredible stand alone song. The subsequent shifts between rage (“Broken Man”), optimism (“So Many Planets”), melancholy (“The Power’s Out”), and despair (“Reckless”) ensure a listening experience that evokes as many emotions as life itself–and I’m pretty sure that’s what Clark intended.

Eric: All Born Screaming eases the listener into St. Vincent’s world. “Hell is Near” begins with a dreamlike quality as St. Vincent serenades us with gentle vocals before the instrumentation picks up. It isn’t until the 2:40 mark of the second track, “Reckless,” where we see her bring some of her rocking capabilities. (It should come as no surprise that she spent a stint in the noise rock group, Skull F**ers, as her career was getting its legs.) It wasn’t until the third track, “Broken Man,” the first single off the album, that I realized I was going to have this album on repeat. Tracks 3-5 is perhaps the strongest three consecutive songs on an album released all year. The second half of the album is more reminiscent of her earlier work and production with more drawn-out notes, longer harmonies, and otherworldly elements. The first half of the album could go on any party playlist, the second half of the album is better for introspective drives or walks with headphones in.

Jake: I love it! At this point, it feels like every new St. Vincent album feels like Annie Clark adding another gem into her Infinity Gauntlet. St. Vincent is a master at making each of her albums sound completely different from the last but this album does feel like more of a culmination of her previous projects. There’s definitely a “classic” St. Vincent quality present on the album. For the first time in a long time it feels like Annie is letting loose and leaning into her quirky St. Vincent-isms and All Born Screaming is all the more fun for it.

Christine: It feels like an album. Like a set of pieces of work that go together well enough to be cohesive but don’t sound like just one long song. I feel it viscerally, like I can hear pieces of each track with different parts of my body. It’s also incredibly instrumentalized – is that a word? – and sounds like there’s a consummate multi-instrumentalist behind each sound. Which, of course, there is.

Josh: I agree with many of the other observations here. St. Vincent really pulls us into her own creative world with this one, and the individual songs come together to form one coherent album-sized listening experience. It’s a 40-minute creative tour de force, all considered.

How does this album compare to recent albums like Daddy’s Home and Masseduction – what are the most striking similarities or differences?

Emma: Daddy’s Home was Clark’s answer to her father’s release from a 12-year white collar prison sentence. An ode to the rock and roll of the ’70s (her father’s favorite era of music), the album has much more of an outward focus on shame and guilt. There is a line in the album’s title track where St. Vincent sings, “We’re all born innocent.” The shift from “innocent” in Daddy’s Home to “screaming” in All Born Screaming is emblematic of some sort of release, or an understanding, within Clark that is central to her latest album.

Masseduction, the primary product of St. Vincent’s latex phase, is both carnal and personal. From overtly sexual songs, like “Savior,” to brokenhearted ballads such as, “New York,” the album, Masseduction, like All Born Screaming, covers a wide range of emotion. It covers a smaller range of sounds, however, sticking to producer Jack Antonoff’s synth heavy signature and poppy (or pop presenting) presentation. “Big Time Nothing” and “Sweetest Fruit” could easily be found on Masseduction, highlighting the pieces of St. Vincent’s various personas that Clark has weaved into her most intimate album yet.

Eric: I didn’t start listening to St. Vincent until 2021, when Clark released Daddy’s Home, which was produced by the most sought-after producer on the planet right now, Jack Antonoff. After listening to the rest of Clark’s discography (and reading Emma’s analysis), Daddy’s Home is a radical departure from her earlier work. It is an ode to the seventies Rock that she grew up on. Clark, who released an album with little-known-musician David Byrne, seems heavily influenced by the eclectic sounds of bands like the Talking Heads throughout Daddy’s Home. Clark’s 2017 release, Masseducation, has more electrical influences, but still maintains its nods to eighties and nineties alternative rock. All Born Screaming, feels like Clark’s most personal, introspective, and unique work to date.

Jake: I personally hear a clear link between this album and Masseduction. The bright synths and playful choruses of that album definitely sound like they influenced the zaniest parts of All Born Screaming, but with much less of that “pop album” focus. With “Flea” being so classic ‘Rush’ I can definitely see it having a spot amongst the 20th Century rock pastiche on Daddy’s Home. Softer moments like “Hell is Near” do remind me a bit of that album as well but if St. Vincent was looking forward for inspiration instead of backward.

Christine: Keeping in mind that I’m a new convert and have sat with her other albums only as long as I have with All Born Screaming, I’m seeing more versatility here, more genre fluidity with elements of trip-hop, nu metal and acid jazz. It’s still got the solid rock and pop foundation that she’s always had, but is more expansive. And yes, as others have said, the lyrics are far more personal: lines like “Lover nail yourself right to me / If you go I won’t be well / I can hold my arms wide open / But I need you to drive the nail” are disturbing in the best way.

Josh: I’ve listened to St. Vincent here and there– especially after seeing her open for RHCP in 2022, as I mentioned above– but I probably need to listen even more thoroughly before I can adequately comment on how All Born Screaming compares sonically to her past projects. One thought: now that three years have passed since Daddy’s Home, it makes sense that the lyrics of this one have less to do with the joys of seeing her father return from a stint in prison and more to do with the more up-to-date thematic fare that my colleagues here at Atwood have identified.

St. Vincent 'All Born Screaming' © Alex Da Corte
St. Vincent ‘All Born Screaming’ © Alex Da Corte

Clark teased All Born Screaming with “Broken Man,” “Flea,” and “Big Time Nothing.” Are these singles faithful representations of the album?

Emma: Yes and no. Yes, because the album is an amalgamation of distinct songs tied together by themes of love and mortality– “Broken Man,” “Flea,” and “Big Time Nothing” are definitely representative of the album’s central thesis. Musically, however, the singles are not illustrative of the entire album, as All Born Screaming encompasses sounds ranging from atmospheric to hard rock.

Eric: I agree with Emma in that the album’s sound spans genres and soundscapes across its ten-song tracklist. Thus, it is impossible for three songs to represent the entire scope of the album. However, they are probably the three tracks on the album that I find myself coming back to most often. Additionally, they are the most radio-friendly songs on All Born Screamin. “Broken Man” is pure Rock n Roll. “Flea” has a bouncy sound from the perspective of a flea, which really makes the listener empathize with the little bloodsuckers. I also really love the guitar on the bridge at the 2:05 mark. “Big Time Nothing,” makes me want to dance in my most fashionable outfit.

Jake: Absolutely! Each single really nicely encapsulates the album’s raw aesthetic St. Vincent is going for but they are only the tip of the iceberg. I adore the synthetic sound she crafts on the singles; it’s so energizing. And “Flea” is the most fun St. Vincent has had her lyrics be in a while. But, in total St. Vincent fashion, All Born Screaming offers so much more to the listener when given a complete listen.

Christine: They definitely do their job, which is to give people a little taste of what’s on the album but not reveal everything. One of my litmus tests for an LP is whether there are album tracks that I like as much as or better than the singles, and if so, how many there are (that is, if I’ve liked the singles). And that’s definitely the case here.

Josh: I won’t argue with everyone else. The singles here do the job of preparing the listener for the full-length album that follows.

St. Vincent has said one of the major pillars of the album is that the only thing worth living for is love: “We’re all born screaming, the suffering and the joy… It’s all part of the same thing. Everything is happening all the time. How do you look at the violence and chaos that is life, but then also go, yeah, but I’m going to choose to live it?” How does All Born Screaming capture these sentiments in its songs? Where do you hear or feel that most?

Emma: As noted in my initial impressions of the album, St. Vincent covers the entire spectrum of human emotion on All Born Screaming. Although many of the songs on the album are concerned—maybe even obsessed—with death, they don’t feel morbid. From reminiscing on past lives (specifically, a reference to Clark’s 2021 album, Nowhere Inn) on “Hell is Near,” to the reality that we’re “All Born Screaming” on the title track, St. Vincent chooses to live in spite of (and maybe for) the chaos. It’s hard to identify one song on the album that captures this sentiment more than others, but if I had to choose one, I’d probably go with “Violent Times,” or the album’s title track. Both songs directly address the screaming and suffering that comes with living (I have crawled out your hallowed houses / Just to feel my headache pound), while still managing to find joy (I forgot people could be so kind / In these violent times).

Eric: It sounds like Clark is having fun on the album. She is doing what she wants, as evidenced by parting with Antonoff and producing All Born Screaming herself. She is more than capable of doing so, as this is one of her strongest projects from start to finish. All Born Screaming is her most concise tracklist to date, being only 10 songs long (although it has the same runtime as Masseducation). All Born Screaming is also not tied to one sound, as her previous albums have been in the past. Seamlessly bouncing from rock to pop to electronic and her vocal melodies ranging from gentle singing in “Reckless,”, to high falsetto harmonizing in “Sweetest Fruit,” and letting loose on the chorus of “Flea.”

Jake: I mean, listen to “Broken Man!” St. Vincent is trying to incite a riot with the closing leg of that track. There’s definitely an aggressive quality to a lot of the instrumentals here but it never sounds overwhelming or not like St. Vincent isn’t having fun. She does a great job grounding these qualities by making the album so accessible which I think captures that chaotic sentiment Annie is going for.

Christine: Totally agree with Jake – a better question might be where don’t you feel the “chaos and violence that is life” on this album. Even the ballads have that lingering sense of dread which, when they break open into literal screaming like on “Broken Man,” do so not with a resolving positivity but with an animalistic anger that somehow borders on joy from its sheer release.

Josh: Yep, it sure is a hectic listening experience, so I’ll agree with the others that this main theme is evoked in many corners all over the album.

St. Vincent © Alex Da Corte
St. Vincent © Alex Da Corte

Which song(s) stand out for you on the album, and why?

Emma: Each time I listen to the album, a different song stands out. Right now, I’m most drawn to “The Power’s Out.” Throughout the track, St. Vincent juxtaposes melancholic instrumentals and jazzy vocals against the hellscape of a dystopian New York. She romanticizes scenes of despair–from news anchors being shot on live television to the blind hugging police as they cry out for help–to the point where the loss of control is freeing (The power’s out / And no one can save us / No one can blame us now). In my mind, it’s an alternative (and better) version of Netflix’s Leave the World Behind.

Eric: My favorite song on the album has changed a few times. A few songs, especially “Flea,” have established heavy rotation on my workout playlist. As I mentioned, I do think the three singles can stand alone on their own without needing to listen to the rest of the album. For the most part I have been listening to All Born Screaming in its entirety. However, sometimes I may start with “Broken Man,” but I do feel it is Clark’s strongest release from start to finish, as each song offers something unique for the listener to grab onto.

Jake: “Big Time Nothing” is a straight banger but I keep coming back to “Violent Times.” The crunchy horn swells add so much to the track’s effect and St. Vincent’s vocal performance is straight bone-chilling. The song feels so personal and desperate yet it speaks to something much bigger like any great song should. The reference to the Pompeii lovers embracing adds a timeless quality to the track and paints a convincing picture of a cold, heartless world we all live in; I love it.

Christine: My first thought when hearing “Hell Is Near” is that it sounded like a perfect album closer. Which I thought was just brilliant since it’s the first track, and somehow it also works perfectly for this album with its eerie feeling of foreboding. Reckless is a close second to “Broken Man” as my favorite track, and I love how “Violent Times” and “The Power’s Out” give a bit of fabulous Portishead. But the trilogy of “Broken Man,” “Flea” and “Big Time Nothing” are just flawless – maybe because they came into my mind before the album, but they just flow perfectly.

Josh: In an attempt to answer this question, I took down some notes as I listened to the whole album recently, and waited to see which song would make the most positive impression possible on me. My results were as follows:

  • I like the song “Broken Man.” It’s upbeat.
  • “Flea” is a nice one, too.
  • “Violent Times” has nice singing.
  • “Sweetest Fruit” has cool guitar playing + singing.
  • The title track is coolly ominous and has good usage of the album’s one guest appearance, Cate LeBon.

In the end, though, I guess no one song emerged as my favorite just yet. But I guess it’s also good that I have so many positive comments to make about so many tracks all over the album!

Do you have any favorite lyrics so far? Which lines stand out?

Emma: The last four lines in the second verse of “Violent Times” have stuck with me for the past few weeks. They represent the ethos of All Born Screaming perfectly, touching on love and death beautifully:

All of the wasted nights chasing mortality
When in the ashes of Pompeii
Lovers discovered in an embrace
For all eternity

Eric: “Sweetest Fruit” begins with a heartfelt ode to artist Sophie, who tragically died after slipping off their roof while trying to take a photo of the moon. Listening to the first verse makes me emotional every time.

My Sophie climbed the roof
To get a better view of the moon, moon
My God, then one wrong stair
Took her down to the depths
But for a minute, what a view
What a view

Jake: “Then you feel that little prick from me / I look at you and all I see is meat” from “Flea”: incredible. Very much reminds me of the quirkier song topics from Strange Mercy. More succubus energy from St. Vincent, please.

Christine: The chorus of “Flea” juxtaposes an opulent, sweeping orchestration with its lyrics. It makes me shudder and visualize a wicked, curling, Joker-like grin. Another example of feeling the music in my internal organs.

Drip you in diamonds, pour you in cream
You will be mine for eternity
Hair in my shears fall at your feet
You will be mine for eternity

Josh: I hadn’t noticed that “Sweetest Fruit” was a homage to the gone-too-soon producer Sophie, but now that Eric has pointed that out, I will side with his assessment that this is one of the most heartfelt lyrical moments on the entire album.

Where do you feel All Born Screaming sits in the pantheon of St. Vincent’s discography?

Emma: Because of its authenticity, I am comfortable placing All Born Screaming as one of St. Vincent’s best albums yet. I’d place it second only to Strange Mercy (2011), Clark’s third album that solidified St. Vincent as a musical force to be reckoned with. With a song for every mood, emotion, place, and time, All Born Screaming is firmly positioned to age like a fine wine.

Eric: I have been a peripheral St. Vincent fan for the past few years. Recognizing her talents and occasionally listening to her music, yet not being particularly drawn to her entire discography. All Born Screaming engrossed me from the beginning and has encouraged me to spend more time on a deeper dive into all of her albums. Personally, All Born Screaming is her greatest project to date. With that being said, each of her albums offer something special and I can’t wait to hear what else she has in store for us in the future.

Jake: Sadly, I think this album sits towards the lower part of the St. Vincent catalog. There’s a lot to love about All Born Screaming but, unfortunately for this album, St. Vincent’s discography is stacked. Annie’s earlier work like Actor and Strange Mercy are legitimately some of the best indie projects ever and are just too hard to top. Even if its lowest points do hold it back a bit, All Born Screaming still exhibits the very exciting and colorful highs of a great St. Vincent album.

Christine: Jury’s still out for me on this question, as I gleefully romp through the rest of her work. I will point out that she’s name-checked in the recent film adaptation of “The Idea of You:” teenage Izzy and her friends arrive late (late!) to a Coachella VIP meet-and-greet with the boy band they loved in seventh grade because they couldn’t tear themselves away from their current goddess, St. Vincent’s, set. Further than the irony of a 16-year-old obsessed with a 41-year-old female indie artist while her mother falls for a 24-year-old boy band member, this says to me that Annie Clark has achieved a broad appeal that doesn’t compromise her art and musicianship.

Josh: I don’t know her catalog perfectly, but I have a feeling that this is one of the best works she’s turned in to date. Again, proof that doing these Atwood roundtables helps you to really unpack and appreciate new albums more than you might have done otherwise.

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:: stream/purchase All Born Screaming here ::
:: connect with St. Vincent here ::

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? © Alex Da Corte

With ‘All Born Screaming’, St. Vincent Reveals More of Annie Clark – And We Like Her a Lot


All Born Screaming

an album by St. Vincent

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