St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home
Released May 14th, 2021 on Loma Vista Records
The Seventies were a decade, weren’t they? The characters from Dazed and Confused might not think so, but they’ve proven to be a resilient wellspring for musical fashion choices. It was the decade that gave us disco and punk, after all, and gave birth to hip hop and electronic music, even if they were still niche underground interests at the time. Disco and punk, however, tend to eat up most of the oxygen in the discussion. Punk doesn’t really need much of an explanation; pretty much every big mainstream rock movement since 1977 revolves around a reaction to the first and second waves of punk, in some form or another. Disco, maligned at the time for reasons deeply rooted in racism and sexism, has been just as influential a form, worming through rave culture and the growth of festival-level EDM.
Annie Clark taps into the Seventies too but her gaze largely runs elsewhere. When “Pay Your Way In Pain” dropped as the lead single to this record, there was a lot of talk about David Bowie, himself an entire chapter in the history of the decade, and particularly his plastic soul era on 1975’s Young Americans. This was largely because of the way Clark puts the inflection on “pay” and “pain” in the chorus, which are clearly an homage to “Fame.” In one sense this anticipation was wrong, because this record contains more than coked-up pyschedelic soul and the song is the brashest moment on it. However, that particular strain of the Seventies is what Daddy’s Home is all about. That debauched intersection of jazz, funk, soul, and rock and roll is exactly where Clark lands. There is Bowie, to be sure, but also Steely Dan, Pink Floyd circa Dark Side Of The Moon, and the Rolling Stones circa Some Girls. The background vocals conjure sublimely stoned mid-decade soul music. Clark’s guitar, once scorching, now wraps itself slickly around the melodies and runs through the swelling backdrops. It also plays off against an electric sitar, adding the ghost of George Harrison into the mix. Strings run like quiet creeks and then swell with precise effect – sometimes “violently” as on “Somebody Like Me.” There’s so much going on on the album that it may put off people who climbed aboard for 2017’s much bolder, pop-oriented Masseduction. Of course, that album put off some who thought she’d peaked on the immaculately indie St. Vincent. Annie Clark is a changeling as much as anything, so holding on for dear life is the best practice.
The twist is that the sound – dipping back into dusty fleet-fingered funkiness and Cassavetes chic – is borrowed from her father’s record collection. Her father, a stock broker, went to jail for a long time on stock manipulation charges. There are moments on this record where she talks about visiting him in jail. The relationship seems complicated: even before the intimate personal details, there’s the juxtaposition of the avant-garde New York artist who did an album with David Byrne and has slowly grown into balancing being a star and an artist, and the high-powered stock broker who went down for a crime that most people feel to be near the top of the list of infractions that are mid-tier reprehensible. It’s fascinating that his getting out of jail gave her the impetus to dip into his records, and the memories that must be generated by them. It’s even more fascinating that she moved to pull an interview that mentioned this briefly. There’s a lot going on here to be dissected, but it’s also easy enough to let the album take you on a more impressionistic route: let everything slide right over you and lose yourself in the intricate groove.