st. vincent – st. vincent

even when hiding behind the understated folk sounds of her 2007 debut marry me, it was evident that annie clark was not, and will never be, amongst musicians easily recyclable in the contemporary indie rock climate.  as st. vincent, she demands listeners to pay attention to her lyricism and phenomenal guitar work simultaneously – a feat not easy to achieve – regardless of the genre she’s happened to settle into.  clark has largely gone electric since her debut, drawing on elements of funk, her love of horn arrangements, and angular guitar lines to develop a truly signature style.  maybe that’s why her newest album is self-titled; at this stage in the game, annie clark needs no introduction.

there’s this really thought-provoking article on the trajectory and meaning of the artwork on all of st. vincent’s albums, and it backs up my perception of her latest effort: this record just exudes self-confidence.  both “i prefer your love” and “regret” are comfortable, familiar st. vincent songs, and that’s why clark makes the audience wait until the middle of the album before they are heard.  the front half of st. vincent is full of eclectic aggression; the subject matter of clark’s songs is simple in delivery while slightly abstract in concept, but she staunches any apprehension with vehement orchestration.  album opener “rattlesnake” winds and strikes just like its namesake, with a slithering synthesizer line interrupted by interjections from clark’s voice and some pretty frenzied drumming, and lead single “birth in reverse” keeps the dust off of your dancing shoes.

some of clark’s most inspiring songwriting to date comes in the form of “huey newton.”  the track first finds her navigating through an ostinato synthesizer pattern and singing in her patented ethereal voice, but it soon transcends into a crushing guitar riff bolstered by a commanding, almost harsh vocal delivery that mirrors clark’s austere demeanor on the album cover.  her blend of tried and true with uncharted musical territory in terms of her own career is fearless; it’s something that started to take shape on strange mercy and has now been fully realized, three years later.

while elements of her collaboration with david byrne are evident on tracks like “digital witness,” st. vincent still feels like an album organically grown by annie clark.  i’ve always expected her music to challenge my perception of what is possible in the pop realm, and this batch of tunes certainly did not disappoint.  she may be easing herself into a palate rich with dirty synthesizers and fuzzy guitars, but this is akin to easing oneself into a swimming pool of cold water; there’s ample time to get out and try something new.  annie clark is only knee-high, still capable of writing songs as diverse as “severed crossed fingers” and “psychopath,” and her demonstrated musical intellect and curiosity suggests she’ll never go beyond waist-deep.


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