How St. Vincent Had to Earn the Title to Her New Album ‘All Born Screaming’

St. Vincent’s new album All Born Screaming required a lived life before the artist felt she could use the title.

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The album, her seventh, is darker and heavier than her previous, 1970s-inspired Daddy’s Home, which dealt with her father’s incarceration. In the past, St. Vincent used irony—much like her fuzz guitar pedal—to disfigure transparency. But the heaviness of her new album isn’t solely the result of Trent Reznor-inspired synths; it’s the hold-your-breath-and-rip-the-bandage-off revealing moments of “Hell Is Near.”

I was bare, and your word was still warm in my hand.

She also received high-profile assists from Dave Grohl and Cate Le Bon, who helped St. Vincent deliver a brutal and visceral collection. Fellow Foo Fighter Josh Freese is featured on drums, too.

Beauty and Brutality

“I’ve known I was going to make a record called All Born Screaming since I was 23,” she told Rolling Stone. “But I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t really worthy of the title ’cause you have to live a lot to be worthy of a title that really says it all. It’s the beauty, it’s the brutality, and it’s all part of the same continuum.”

She’d worked with super-producer Jack Antonoff on her previous two albums, but the new LP is the first she’s produced on her own. “So much of making this record was, like, everything has to be tactile,” she said. “It has to start with electricity and analog circuitry. It has to be touched.” The new approach required St. Vincent’s own hand to direct the project.

Performance Art

Annie Clark performs as St. Vincent. Her career has been defined by Bowie-like reinvention and performance art. She often writes in “persona and iconography.” However, All Born Screaming is deeply personal.

Clark removes the protection of metaphor and allusion for diaristic, fully exposed songwriting. She said the album isn’t about persona. It’s about “life and death and love.” It’s the impossibility of life and the evolutionary luck of having been born in the first place.

St. Vincent’s new album aims for connectivity, though not through the usual means. It’s an attempt to connect fractured societies. She said it’s “radical to love thy neighbor.” Humans are imperfect and messy, but she added, “We’re all we got.”

A Heart Beneath the Machines

Clark created the album by jamming with herself for hours. She set up multiple drum machines and synthesizers to flesh out ideas. The approach forced her to find a heart beneath the machines. It’s easy to get lost in the craft of making music, but Clark pushed herself to find something more profound.

She was also a demanding producer of herself. Clark re-sang songs obsessively, though she wasn’t aiming for perfection. The idea of letting go completely, to remove oneself, to remove the ego to reach a space of total absorption.

Shape-Shifting

St. Vincent began her solo career with four brilliant albums: Marry Me (2007), Actor (2009), Strange Mercy (2011), and St. Vincent (2015). Though the early albums are steeped in façade, the underlying beauty remains.

However, when the latex appeared on Masseduction, it seemed “concept” had become her dominating motivation. The “tactile” she described earlier became hidden behind smokescreens, and her sheer (and obvious) virtuosity wasn’t enough to allow for emotional potency.

“New York” snuck through the performative disguises and reminded listeners of the prolific songwriting she displayed in a song like “I Prefer Your Love.”

All Born Screaming removes the mask, and St. Vincent sounds free. Although she occasionally displays vulnerability, she quickly covers the exposure with protective art-pop experimentation as a defense mechanism.

The paradox of her new album’s warmth against its Nine Inch Nails’ industrial aesthetic mirrors the complexity of the human condition. All Born Screaming is the flesh controlling the machine.

It’s kind of St. Vincent to welcome a little more Annie Clark.

On the street, I’m a king-sized killer
I can make your kingdom come
On my feet, I’m an earthquake shaking
So open up, my little one

Hey, what are you looking at?
Who the hell do you think I am?
And what are you looking at?
Like you never seen a broken man

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Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

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