Thursday 1 March 2018

Review of ‘Masseduction’ by St. Vincent and ‘I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life’ by Tune-yards

Indie weirdo-esses St Vincent and Tune-yards both release their poppiest albums to date.

Both St Vincent and Tune-yards first made a splash in the late noughties, capturing the attention of Pitchfork-loving hipsters like myself for their eccentric sound. Since then they’ve been slowly trading out guitars for more electronica. Are their new albums too poppy? Is there still enough weirdness to give them their edge? What's wrong with showing one's face on an album cover? Should St. Vincent's album have been called Asseduction? It's time for a deep analysis.

Let’s start with St Vincent’s new album Masseduction, which is hardly ‘new’ any more given it was released in October (that’s ancient history in blogging terms, but I’ve always been fashionably late when it comes to reviews).  St Vincent’s 2014 self-titled album was my favourite record of the year – it was catchy and equally experimental, modulating guitars to sound like synths whilst containing bizarre lyrics about snorting a piece of the Berlin wall and taking out the garbage and masturbating. I hoped Masseduction would be just as captivating, but sadly it’s not.

St Vincent has decided to play it safe with more poppy song structures and lyrics that are more personal but not nearly as kookily memorable. There are too many wishy-washy ballads for my liking such as ‘New York’ and ‘Slow Disco’. Annie’s voice is still powerful, but it’s her weirdness that I fell in love with and this is lacking. Instead, we only get glimpses of this weirdness such as the incredibly fun track ‘Pills’ with a nursery rhyme style chorus and epic Paranoid-Android-style outro. Title track 'Masseduction' is also one of the better cuts if only for it's raunchy earworm of a chorus 'I can't turn off what turns me on'. Whilst I don't usually celebrate artists for their edginess, I feel that's the missing ingredient on many of the other songs.

I was worried the new Tune-yards album I Can Feel You Creep Into My Life would fall trap to the same flaws. She too released her last album back in 2014 – a frenetic mix of African tribal rhythms and catchy pop hooks. The lyrics were equally weird, including interludes about breaking a rocking chair and cannibalistic grandparents. As with St Vincent's latest album, it feels like this new Tune-yards album takes a departure from wacky lyrics, instead settling for more serious and personal themes. White guilt seems to be a particularly major lyrical theme, as on ‘Colonizer’ in which she sings 'I use my white woman's voice to tell stories of travels with African men'. Having borrowed elements of African music and culture throughout her career, I can see why she wanted to confront the troublesome topic, although she treats the subject matter as if she's been parading around in blackface (which she hasn't - that's Iggy Azalea's job). Personally I prefer the lyrics about broken rocking chairs and cannibal grandparents that graced her last album.

As for the instrumentation, Merrill hasn't lost her weirdness. In fact, musically it’s even more eccentric and fun than its predecessor. Whilst there may be more dancey elements, evident from the likes of demented disco tune ‘Look At Your Hands’, there are still creative ideas being thrown around. The most interesting songs are in the second half such as ‘Private Life’ with its creepy dissonant melodies and ‘Home’ with its Gregorian choir vocals. Other than the incessantly groovy basslines, there are no guitars in sight. But even if the rock elements of Tune-yards first works are gone, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Life could never be accused of being play-it-safe, making up for it’s loss of guitars with electronic experimentalism.

Masseduction by St Vincent 
I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life by Tune-yards