REVIEW: St. Vincent – “Pieta” & “Sparrow”
by Chad Jewett
St. Vincent’s self-titled, fourth album – released earlier this year – was a sharp, bursting LP, a pivot away from the measured Kate Bush-via-electro-pop embrace of 2011’s excellent Strange Mercy to something more akin to the freaked-out futurism of Talking Heads’ Fear of Music. Songs like “Rattlesnake” maintained Annie Clark’s elastic tunefulness, but reframed them in harsher, more neurotic passages of spry post-punk. “Pieta” and “Sparrow”, two songs recorded during the St. Vincent sessions and now seeing a Black Friday 10” release, carry some of the art-damaged edginess of the album proper, but also offer something closer to the plushness of Strange Mercy.
“Pieta” unfolds atop the sort of dense, conga-driven minor-key groove that leads to all of those early-80s David Byrne comparisons (including ours), but the song’s chorus lofts into a spacious, almost church-like major-key, reminiscent of the kind of ecstatic globalism that marked Paul Simon’s The Rhythm of the Saints. Clark’s voice is compressed and filtered, lending a compelling otherworldly quality to the song, a more subtle version of the sci-fi modes of St. Vincent.
“Sparrow” is more assertively deconstructed, a woozy computer beat melting in real time beneath Clark’s sing-song verse melody. But again, the song yields to a bright, major key chorus that also once again brings to mind some sort of abstract hymn: “They’re calling Mariaaaa”. Bending guitars squiggle in the interludes, scratchy synthesizers curve in and out, and the whole thing is as expertly shaped as the best of St. Vincent, offering a roomier, perhaps even more gentle take on the hard, neon-lit experimentalism of that LP.