Album Reviews: St. Vincent, Natalie Bergman, The Vaccines

St. Vincent — Daddy's Home (Dallas, TX)

The more she dives into full-blown art-pop, the more Annie Clark's music demands repeat listens to really get into it. In a record that infuses her style with a bit of soul-era-Bowie swagger, Clark is definitely pushing limits, and playing a more take-it-or-leave-it creative style. The overt theatrics and digital tones of "Pay Your Way in Pain" is abrasive, and really needs you to grab onto all its weird hooks to find it catchy. While "Down and Out Downtown" is certainly more familiar melodically, the soul in its grooves is addictive, particularly as Clark turns its final chorus lines into these massive, punchy chords. The quiet guitar ramble of "Somebody Like Me" opens things up to a slow-burn emotionally, with Clarke's voice and the way the production mixes in every other instrument to create this truly colourful experience. There's a creamy and sunny quality to the guitar lines of "The Melting of the Sun" we've never heard in St. Vincent before, and her ability to tie this warmth and heft into her music is an exciting shift in her usual pace.

MK xyz — Sweet Spot (Duval County, Florida)

MK xyz comes into this latest iteration of their career with all the attitude and confidence to sell their groove-driven music. In the swirl of neon-laced bass lines on "Dennis Rodman," the ability to push and pull someone lyrically is a wonderful counterpoint to the welcoming tones of the music. "Air It Out" is much more fun to follow vocally, as the main hook drops in with this staccato kick that begs you to sing along. There's a bigger growl on "She Knows," and with all the extra little harmonies and vocal fills here it lets MK feel like a second character in their own song. Even with a more familiar drive on "Geaux," MK xyz finds their most radio-ready track here, with siren wails and a bounce in their vocals to really push the song as well.

Natalie Bergman — Mercy (Chicago, IL)

Though religion does often influence popular music, it's rare for more overtly spiritual records to fully express themselves and avoid an otherwise "preachy" quality. Natalie Bergman's sublime songcrafting, her personal take on faith and a musical experience that in itself emulates the most welcoming aspects of religion sell the album beyond being labeled as Christian rock. For example, the harmonies and clapping percussion give the lo-fi tones of "Talk to the Lord" an elevated quality, as if Bergman and co. just brought this song to the life while sitting together. The vintage production of "Shine Your Light on Me" really helps it stand on its own, and perhaps even get you to view all of its bare text as a potential allegory to more relatable tales. The rhythms sing on "I'm Going Home" with Bergman's layering feeling truly her own, as the fidelity of each voice, drum and guitar are just slightly different enough to have the song feel kaleidoscopic. There's even a sense of nostalgia to "Paint the Rain" that feels sweet, to the point that every instrument that joins the track makes you want to grin wider.

Marlae — Runaways (Single) (Vancouver)

With a sprawling scope to what sometimes sounds downbeat, Marlae really brings "Runaways" alive through their impassioned singing. The track's beat lays low, giving plenty of room for all the spritely harmonies to really shine on their own. Rather than being a strict quiet-loud dynamic piece, Marlae's vocals grow more urgent throughout the track, until it seems like they're about to burst. The slow crawl of pianos and the ever-morphing beast all come together on this track to give Marlae's journey a true sense of scale on "Runaways."

The Vaccines — Cosy Karaoke, Vol. 1 (London, U.K.)

Covers records are a strange oddity from larger bands, but there's certainly a fun to be had. While not always coherent, this set of classics will definitely be giving the next Vaccines tour a lot of fun tracks to play with on stage. The darkness and synth mystery they instill into Wanda Jackson's "Funnel of Love" gives the song even more menace, where it once might have seemed both joyful and worried. However it's a more ghostly wash on "No One Knows," with the Vaccines letting the Queens of the Stone Age song feel like a haunted echo of itself, though not as exciting, it's a moody re-evaluation of the song. "Telstar" is hilariously the most upbeat listen here, as the song's cosmic and shimmering hook can't be dulled. Only something like "For What It's Worth" feels a little lacking in new ideas to say, as it proves the Vaccines are great at performing but in this case they just don't shift it enough to feel worthwhile.