As Annie Clark releases her sixth solo album as St Vincent, family life seems to be on her mind. On Somebody Like Me, she’s observing a wedding: “Dress up in white, slip on the ring/Walk straight down the aisle to violent strings.” On both My Baby Wants a Baby and Pay Your Way in Pain, the 38-year-old is contemplating her fitness for motherhood: “So I went to the park just to watch the little children/The mothers saw my heels and they said I wasn’t welcome,” she sings on the latter. Meanwhile, the warm psychedelia of The Melting of the Sun offers a series of vignettes featuring women known for their art, not their homemaking: Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Tori Amos.
Messing with the more conventional is not a new thing for her. There was a decidedly flirty duet with Dua Lipa at the Grammys in 2019, writing for Taylor Swift and remixing Paul McCartney, and briefly becoming a tabloid curiosity by dating the supermodel Cara Delevingne. She also has a habit of wrestling with the unspoken rules of the interview process that has rubbed a few journalists the wrong way.
Even this album title, the trilby-on-the-hatstand call of American cliché, has a much darker meaning. In 2010, her father was jailed in Texas for his role in a stock fraud scheme. In 2019 he got out. The story was first exposed through newspaper dirt digging while she was stepping out with Delevingne, and in hindsight, she was already singing about it on her 2011 album Strange Mercy (“Our father in exile for God knows how many years”) but this is her taking control of the narrative. She announced the album by producing a comic strip that told the story. On the title track, she depicts the absurdity of signing autographs in the visitation room. And she’s the Daddy herself, seemingly the grown-up in their relationship and also the head of a musical family that includes Taylor Swift’s producer Jack Antonoff and Donny Hathaway’s daughter Kenya.
Despite all that baggage, she sounds the most relaxed she’s ever been on record. Often more clever than fun in the past, here her guitar creates lush prog-rock textures. An electric sitar gives a woozy feel to Live in the Dream and Down and Out Downtown. On …At the Holiday Party there’s an organic, Laurel Canyon vibe. It’s a calm, beautiful experience, even if it’s far from the sound of her settling down.