After the release of her 2017 album Masseduction, Annie “St Vincent” Clark admitted that she had taken the angular sounds that had defined her music up to that point as far as she could. Since bursting onto the scene in 2007 with Marry Me, Clark’s music has progressively become starker and sharper; defined by idiosyncratic arrangements and pointed electric guitar solos.
With her first album in four years, the historically innovative Clark instead looked to the psychedelic sounds of the ’60s. These songs are no pastiches, however, and within the first few moments of this record, Clark lets out a piercing guttural cry that serves as a reminder that this is, unmistakably, a St. Vincent album.
Freed, however, from the constraints and expectations of her old sound, Clark exudes a carefree swagger that had eluded her thus far. Whereas the songs of Masseduction and Strange Mercy had a propulsive, disconcerting quality, these songs move along at a dreamy pace – pensive but never indecisive. These songs also reflect not just a change in a soundscape, but a thematic change in the music of St. Vincent.
Clark’s music, historically, has blurred the line between the persona and the person until it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. Here, however, are 14 songs that examine Clark’s legacy adeptly and with unwavering intimacy. The title track addresses the incarceration of Clark’s father with a directness largely unparalleled by her past work (“I signed autographs in the visitation room // Waiting for you the last time, inmate 502”). What begins as a straightforward recollection of prison experiences spirals into a ball of existential doubt, as Clark identifies parallels between her father and herself (“Well, hell, where can you run when the outlaw’s inside you?”)
Various characters enter and exit the stage in Daddy’s Home – her father, of course, but also judgmental mothers in “Pay Your Way In Pain”, musical legends like Tori Amos and Nina Simone in “The Melting of The Sun” and a childhood friend in “The Laughing Man.” The latter track acts, perhaps, as the album’s emotional core; an affecting meditation on a childhood friend’s passing. It jumps between recalling bittersweet memories – “grass stains and chicken dinners”, “half-pipes and Playstations” – to real-time updates on Clark’s struggle to come to terms with the loss (“But I can’t sleep”). “I know you’re gone, you dropped the scene // Left all of your guitars to me // But I can’t play,” she sings in the final verse. It’s a quietly heart-breaking line; the image of one of the world’s greatest living guitar players left unable to play under the crushing weight of grief.
One noted fault in St. Vincent’s otherwise impeccable discography is her tendency to front-load her albums with the best songs, leaving a back-half that while respectable leaves some disappointed. It’s a tendency she finally began to move away from with Masseduction, and one that she fully abandons here. Some of Daddy’s Home’s best songs are saved for last. The LP’s second half is kicked off with “Down”; a fantastical revenge fantasy filled with righteous anger towards an abuser. “My Baby Wants A Baby” meanwhile, is similarly gripping; an utterly self-scathing number that turns into a powerful reflection on how society dismisses the achievements of childless women.
Tucked in the very final leg of Daddy’s Home is one of Clark’s best songs to date, “…At The Holiday Party.” It’s a surprisingly timely number, about a struggling old friend putting on a brave front, while dependent on substances to make it through the days. Unlike the overtly political “Los Ageless” (from Masseduction), this is an unmistakably personal number; an outcry of empathy and concern towards someone whose life is silently going off the rails. Like Clark’s best music, it’s simultaneously tough but tender. The outro is filled with repeated, intensifying cries of “You can’t hide from me”; what at once seems warm and compassionate, is also suffocating and overwhelming, and by the end of the song you’re just as invested in its characters as Clark herself surely is.