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

All Born Screaming - St. Vincent
All Born Screaming - St. Vincent
St. Vincent’s seventh album ‘All Born Screaming’ is sometimes sanguine, sometimes melancholy, and absolutely worth a listen.
Stream: ‘All Born Screaming’ – St. Vincent

Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, is seldom pictured with so much as a hair out of place.

With each album she has released over the past 17 years, Clark has used music and costume to craft carefully curated personas for St. Vincent – from the cutesy, theater girl born of 2007’s Marry Me, to the latex-wearing dominatrix from 2017’s MassEduction, to a disgruntled rendition of Warhol superstar Candy Darling in 2021’s Daddy’s Home. All Born Screaming, her latest album (released April 26 via Total Pleasure Records, and the first that she has self-produced, turns the spotlight on Clark herself, juxtaposing her calm, cool, and collected exterior against the turmoil within.

All Born Screaming - St. Vincent
All Born Screaming – St. Vincent

The All Born Screaming vinyl is absent of song titles on either side of the disc. Side 1 and Side 2 (labeled as such by St. Vincent) of the record only list the run length and RPM – as good a hint as any that the album is meant to be listened to consecutively and in its entirety.

While All Born Screaming is not a typical concept album – it lacks the central narrative and obvious interconnectedness of songs that define records like The Wall from Pink Floyd – it does boast a cohesiveness that requires 41 minutes and 14 seconds of devoted listening. From start to finish, St. Vincent traverses the full spectrum of human emotion and experience, spanning birth,  love, and death.

Hell Is Near,” the album’s opening track, serves as a prelude to the violent times ahead. St. Vincent’s voice echoes through the void like a priest in a gothic cathedral, chanting, “Signs of life, the beginning, the beginning.” Tender lyrics drown in delicate melodies that turn into heavy, distorted guitar riffs that rival Jimmy Page’s best work. Reverent undertones continue on the second track, “Reckless,” morphing into something darker–almost demonic–as the singer grapples with death and devotion.

I watched you all night
’til the dawn had come
And the angels came down
and picked you up

Cries of “reckless, reckless, reckless” become increasingly desperate, frantic, and breathless as Clark gives into despair, singing, “If your love was an anchor, then I am lost at sea / I hear the riders calling / They’re calling for me.”

Clark’s memento mori continues in “Violent Times,” a haunting track peppered with instrumentals that conjure the sort of stealth and intrigue found in a James Bond film. “All of the wasted nights chasing mortality,” she croons against subdued instrumentals, blurring the line between macabre and beauty through poignant imagery:

When in the ashes of Pompeii
Lovers discovered in an embrace
For all eternity 

The Power’s Out” offers listeners a love song for dystopian times. Quiet percussion kicks off the track, creating a melancholic atmosphere for Clark to infuse with jazzy vocals. It’s reminiscent of trip-hop, perhaps inspired by Portishead’s “Glory Box,” which St. Vincent covered with The Roots last year on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Heavy synths envelope the listener, as Clark paints a picture of beautiful chaos:

It was pouring like a movie
Every stranger looked like they knew me
Handsome cowboys praying, Gothic
Said, “I just remembered being happy”
St. Vincent © Alex Da Corte
St. Vincent © Alex Da Corte

The “Broken Man” that Clark personifies in the album’s third track would not bode well in this New York apocalypse. “Hey, what are you looking at? Who the hell do you think I am?” she screeches over the push-pull of heavy drums. Dave Grohl joins on the drums a little over halfway through the song, building on existing tension as the song works toward an animalistic release, repeating “Hey, what are you looking at?” over and over, leaving the listener wondering the same thing.

Flea,” which also features Grohl on the drums, is a return to the grotesque subject matter typical of previous iterations of St. Vincent:

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

St. Vincent has described the process behind writing and producing All Born Screaming as making beautiful puzzle pieces and spending hours obsessing over the shape of it.

Inflamed tracks like “Broken Man” and “Flea” fit just as well into the finished product as atmospheric songs like “Hell Is Near” and “The Power’s Out,” with the realities of life and death and the pain of love tying each piece into place. “Big Time Nothing,” another nod to electronic music, begins with Clark speaking a list of wildly unreasonable commands (presumably to herself). “Do ask, but don’t tell, don’t laugh, but do smile / Don’t have a glass, don’t stay a while / Don’t take a pic / Don’t feel so sick,” she says in monotone, before toying with the ’70s funk that permeated Daddy’s Home.

Sweetest Fruit,” a tribute to the late Scottish producer, singer, and DJ, SOPHIE, has created controversy online for its opening lyrics, “My SOPHIE climbed the roof / To get a better view of the Moon / Moon / My God, then one wrong step / Took her down to the depths.” Some claim the verses capitalize on the late artist’s death, others see the song as a well intentioned tribute to a fellow queer musician. The track plays on sage advice from Mark Twain, “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is!” acknowledging that beauty and love come with risk.

So Many Planets,” a ska punk inspired number that contrasts the lightness of reggae with the pains of self-discovery, continues with the idea that a “good” life does not come easy. “I have to visit so many planets before I find my own,”  Clark sings over upbeat drums.

The album’s eponymous and final track, “All Born Screaming,” featuring Welsh musician Cate Le Bon, marries cheerful and darker elements of the album. A sanguine start to the song – “I have climbed power lines and mountains / Just to feel above the ground” – is eventually replaced by chanting – “We’re all born screaming” – similar to that found in “Reckless.”

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

From grappling with death to hammering home the idea that we all enter this earth in the same way, St. Vincent delivers an album that, although extreme at times, touches on very raw elements of the human experience. While the artist’s past (latex heavy) performances and albums sometimes painted St. Vincent as more of a doll, All Born Screaming is a refreshing reminder of Annie Clark’s existence.

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? © Alex Da Corte

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