‘MassEducation’ is new look for enigmatic pop musician St. Vincent

The innovative art-pop musician re-recorded her last album in a minimalist style, to a startling effect.

What Annie Clark, known professionally as St. Vincent, has done with her new album, “MassEducation” (a play on the oft-misspelled title of her 2017 album, “MASSEDUCTION”), is not edit her last album, but remake it entirely with a different approach. The approach she’s taken is so startling that it’s nearly impossible to listen to the original in the same way again.

Perhaps the most unexpected development from the era of music streaming is the ability artists now have to re-edit their albums after they’ve been released. One could argue that this existed in physical media in the form of deluxe box sets and reissues of classic albums, but the option to immediately and constantly update your own work is a privilege artists have been granted only recently. Kanye West releasing and then repeatedly re-releasing “The Life of Pablo” may feel like a lifetime ago given recent events, but it was only in 2016 that we watched as he groundbreakingly added, edited and removed tracks from that album even months after it appeared on streaming services.

Instead of the elaborate pop spectacle that the original album offered, “MassEducation” consists of two instruments: Clark’s voice and a piano. The new arrangements completely change the context surrounding the album, to where it seems like upbeat pop songs like “Los Ageless” were always meant to become jazzy piano ballads.

“MASSEDUCTION,” though one of the best albums of 2017 and undoubtedly a bold work from a singular artist, is her first album in need of some editing. Where previous albums “Actor,” “Strange Mercy” and her Grammy-winning self-titled album each offered near-perfect, cohesive works of art with singular aesthetics, something about “MASSEDUCTION” felt messy in a way that didn’t always register as intentional. The sequencing of songs on the album is often chaotic, with noisy electropop anthems following somber piano ballads and vice versa. Another issue was that Jack Antonoff’s production, while working perfectly for artists such as Carly Rae Jepsen and Lorde, felt suffocating and distracting on emotional songs like “New York.”

Both of these issues are addressed, if not completely remedied, on the new version. For one thing, the track listing is completely different, with most of the more upbeat songs being in its first half and the quieter piano ballads located in its second. For the most part, the new versions are stunning — “Fear the Future,” which was irritatingly overproduced in its original incarnation, reveals itself to be an extraordinarily well-written and downright gorgeous song.

The new arrangements also show that, buried underneath the noisy pop production, “MASSEDUCTION” was her most thoughtful and emotionally honest release to date. Songs like “Young Lover” may not have had their intended impact in their original form, but when cut down to the bare minimum, they reveal their power.

More than anything, “MassEducation” reveals a side of Clark we’ve never seen before. For better and for worse, her music is inextricably entwined with her enigmatic, snarky media persona. Each new album she releases offers a new variation on that character, and a new way to shock her listeners with her ever evolving sound. “MassEducation” strips away all the artifice and surrounding her music and lets it speak for itself, and in the process finds that it has something incredibly interesting to say.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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