Over the course of five albums, Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, has morphed from a talented indie vocalist to a strange and campy creature of pop. She never lacked for confidence, as the stark vulnerability of Strange Mercy clearly proved, and eccentricity was always there to some degree. However, with her latest album she has wholeheartedly embraced it, and on Masseduction (★★★★) we see Clark at her most out there.
On her fifth record under the St. Vincent moniker, Clark prioritizes fun at her critics’ expense, while preserving the rawness that has long characterized her songwriting. The third track, “Pills,” is aggressively fun and catchy, in stark contrast with its subject matter. But its twisted fun becomes uncomfortable in retrospect when we get to “Young Lover,” a song that sees said lover overdose on, well, pills. “New York,” easily one of the year’s best singles, is a melancholy, almost maudlin breakup ballad to a place as much as a person, but Clark’s coda to “the only motherfucker in this city who can stand me” lends a tinge of wry self-deprecation to even this track. (In fairness, the overtly quirky music video takes some of the edge out as well.)
The St. Vincent we hear on Masseduction is many things, but above all she is contagiously irreverent. In this album we hear the end result of an upward spiral of confidence and self-awareness in her work. In some ways, Masseducation represents the logical next step for St. Vincent, who stepped out of her shell in her 2014 self-titled album. As she has grown used to the spotlight, she has gotten more comfortable playing with the bizarre and avant-garde, and as she’s gotten weirder she has become more adept at laughing at herself.
IN 2007, TEGAN AND SARA released what would become one of their best-loved albums. From the outside, The Con must have looked like an unremarkable work, but its jaunty, garagey indie rock — blended with just enough synthpop — resonated with a wide range of listeners, earning the duo a fan base that remains loyal to this day. A decade on, the Quin sisters have chosen to pay tribute to The Con with an album of 17 covers.
Going through The Con X (★★★★), it’s clear that the artists were given free rein to interpret the songs how they saw fit. The result is an incredibly varied album. Ruth B’s “I Was Married” and Shamir’s standout cover of “Like O, Like H” offer stripped back acoustic versions of their respective songs that carry the passion of the originals and preserve the DIY aesthetic of the 2007 album. Other artists make the songs their own, as with Shura’s version of the title track and City and Colour’s “Hop a Plane.” “Back In Your Head” is covered twice, first by Ryan Adams, who hews closely to the original raucous energy of the original, and then by Cyndi Lauper, who gives it more of a synthpop gloss. In selecting their lineup for this cover album, the Quins made a point of choosing LGBTQ or LGBTQ-allied artists, a fitting choice for an album whose proceeds will go directly to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, an organization set up to support and advocate for LGBTQ women and girls.
To understand why they chose to commemorate their fifth studio album, neither their commercial nor critical breakthrough, we have to look at what it meant for a generation of fans that first heard it ten years ago. The release of The Con was, for many of their fans, akin to a coming-of-age experience. Artists like Shura are of a generation now well into their twenties that would likely have first heard The Con in their teens.
In a volatile and emotionally fraught period of their lives, they would have heard sharp, unapologetic lyrics, fiercely individual artists, and, most important of all, music that existed outside the crushing, pervasive heteronormativity of both pop and indie rock alike. For many who were not accustomed to hearing music made for them, Tegan and Sara’s songs for the first time felt like a lifeline. And in the hands of these artists, they still resonate.
Masseducation and The Con X are available to buy from Amazon and iTunes, and through streaming services.
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