The Sonic Reinvention of St. Vincent’s ‘MASSEDUCTION’

The cover for St. Vincent's stripped down album "MassEducation." (via facebook.com)

In the music industry, it’s adapt or die. If you want to survive, you have to stay relevant, which is why bands are constantly trying out new quirks and sounds. From DJ remixes to acoustic covers, musicians try out new sounds like they’re trying on outfits. Annie Clark, better known by her stage persona St. Vincent, has taken her seat at the table of reinvention — celebrating the one-year anniversary of her critically-acclaimed album “MASSEDUCATION” with a stripped-back cover album, “MassEducation.”

The low-flying pop enigma partnered up with pianist Thomas Bartlett to take her 2017 LP filled with glitz, glamor, paranoia and secrets to produce a starkly different album. The atmosphere is almost unrecognizable — filled with vulnerable vocals and beautiful, sloping hills of piano. In Clark’s “MASSEDUCTION,” the tracks vary from robotic beats such as on “Los Ageless” to swelling orchestral sounds as seen on her confession-filled “Slow Disco.” In the reinvented “MassEducation,” Clark channels these varied approaches into one realm of intimacy and reflection where the listener has no choice but to appreciate the artist’s musicality as told through lyrics, melodies and the reliable accompanist of a piano.

Acoustic covers serve one purpose, but “MassEducation” does not quite emulate the standard acoustic cover album. For one, although the two albums keep the same tracklists, Clark reordered the songs. This subtle yet deliberate decision is just one indicator of the unique artistic intentions behind the album’s quieter, fraternal twin sister.

In a snapshot, “MassEducation” can best be summarized as an intimate yet passion-laced confession to make up for any misinterpreted messages that might have been hidden behind the smoke and mirrors of “MASSEDUCTION.” Though she leans on a simple piano accompaniment in the remake, the finished product is insidiously complex — her vocals swell with the same anger, tension and raspy whispers that mark the original album.

“Fear the Future” and “Young Lover” are two of the greatest reimaginations, somehow maintaining “MASSEDUCATION’s” same intensity without  banking on subwoofer basslines and electronic orgasms from guitar trills and MIDI keyboard manipulations. On the other end of the spectrum, Clark’s heartbreaker “New York” and ephemeral “Slow Disco” find themselves in a more reserved space sonically.

If you’re a pop music junkie who hasn’t yet added St. Vincent to your edgy Spotify playlist, try spending this weekend back-to-back binging these two albums because they really do compliment each other. “MassEducation” is the settled sky after the storm that is “MASSEDUCTION.”

Email Michael Muth at [email protected]

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