St. Vincent - MassEducation - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

St. Vincent - MassEducation

by paul_guyet Rating:9 Release Date:2018-10-12
St. Vincent - MassEducation
St. Vincent - MassEducation

There’s no truer test of a song’s quality than to hear it with all its production stripped away. So much music today is its bells and whistles and samples and so on. But it all comes down to the bones. That is what MassEducation is: no harmonies, no insanely talented and effect-buffed guitar playing, no dozens of takes to get that perfect sound, just Annie Clark's voice, Thomas Bartlett’s piano, and Pat Dillett’s subtle yet integral production lending a sense of continuity.

As this new release is a reinterpretation of last year’s stellar Masseduction, I’m just going to break the former down versus the latter.

"Slow Disco" - feels like the impetus for this whole thing and it’s perfect. This is the fifth iteration, also known as “Slow Slow Disco”, as opposed to “Fast Slow Disco” which was released earlier this year. This was a favorite from Masseduction.

"Savior" - Clark brandishes her voice like a glass sword. Absolutely beautiful and naked and fire. Great juxtaposition between the high piano and plucked low notes.

The repetition and layered vocals from the original version of “Masseduction" lose something here and this feels a bit harried at times.

“Sugarboy" - stripped of its frantic, coked-up, clubby chaos, we see those bones and realize there is much more to this than originally indicated. Bartlett’s piano is indispensable in making this work as well as it does. The moment towards the end where Clark makes herself laugh is wonderful.

"Fear The Future" - sounds so triumphant and timeless in this arrangement, again, thanks to Bartlett’s shimmering high notes.

Without those huge, swelling noises in the background and the massive, thudding drums “Smoking Section” feels so much more vulnerable. Originally, when Clark declared “it’s not the end”, there was a sense of certainty, but here, she plays the role of the unreliable narrator.

"Los Ageless” becomes a low key, jazz number that wouldn’t be out of place in a smoky speakeasy from the 20’s. Almost a total reworking. This arrangement is reminiscent of something by Tori Amos, which makes me want a Love This Giant-type collaboration immediately.

“New York” gains added fragility, taking on a more sorrowful tone.

“Young Lover”, one of the only tracks to get a tempo shift, loses a little something, but that’s really one of this album's only shortcomings.

“Happy Birthday, Johnny” loses its gentle bed of slide guitars and gains an absolutely gorgeous piano break. Perhaps one of the only tracks here better than the original.

I was really curious how this would go…but, thanks to that slightly detuned, demented plucked piano, “Pills” works just fine. Somehow the relatively fast vocals work here where they didn’t on “Masseduction”. Another appearance of Bartlett’s sparkling high notes seals the deal.

"Hang On Me" is an excellent closer. It’s even more perfect in this state than in its original presentation.

While Jack Antonoff’s production lent Masseduction a dynamic, immediate quality, the versions presented here feel more ageless and weighty, even those that actually sound lighter than the originals, probably because there’s less to distract from the melodies and lyrics. Not that there was really any doubt, but MassEducation further cements Clark’s songcrafting skills. For those who didn’t like the instrumentation or presentation of her last album, or for those who loved it but would appreciate a deeper, more intimate look at the album, or simply for people who like the work of a strong, female singer/songwriter to accentuate the vibe of the season, MassEducation is meant for you.

Comments (2)

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Great break-down Paul. This is the 'right' way to do one of these (I just tore apart the new Jim James record which is essentially the same format); Annie really nailed it with this release. A reinterpretation that rivals the original.

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Thanks James! This lady knows what she's doing...
I'm bummed that I missed her at Panorama this year, but I wasn't looking to spend $500 for a truncated set.

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