Annie Clark has managed to continuously mesmerize me for several years. Apart from her startlingly competent football control and presence on quirky shows such as Portlandia, she utilizes her phenomenal guitar prowess to weave joyfully experimental music. Every LP Clark releases observes St. Vincent exuding a certain personal trait. Frailty seemed to prevail on her debut (Marry Me), beautiful angst flows through her sophomore (Actor), elegance and disenchantment are present on Strange Mercy, and unabashed confidence finds itself manifest on St. Vincent. Not to say that her prior work lacked confidence. It did at times, however, sacrifice musical appeal for manic creativity. In all fairness though, her music would not be as wonderfully iconoclastic if she played it safe in any sense of the word.
St. Vincent is Clark’s most consistently visceral work to date, with flourishes and grooves that one can only truly appreciate upon several diligent listens. As with all of Clark’s music, St. Vincent is built on a foundation of intricately delicious guitar experimentation and (more often than not) elaborate rhythms. Layered on top of this are Clark’s most underrated talent, her wistfully ornery lyrics and vocal harmonies. There are so many aspects of this work that appeal to a cathartic degree. The production throughout the entirety of the record begs for a competent mode of listening in order to be properly enjoyed. From the ingeniously oscillated hi-hats on album opener ‘Rattlesnake’ to the subtly split and panned synthesizer octaves that introduce ‘Psychopath’, every song has a seemingly effortless aural surprise for one to indulge. Upon further listens I started to do what I do with every body of work from St. Vincent, which is to attempt to decipher how she achieves the tones she does with her guitar. I emphasize the word attempt; my investigation leads me to believe that her pedal-board is roughly the size of your average lake. As with her entire body of work, tracks range from being blissfully upbeat and complex (‘Regret’, ‘Digital Witness’) to being rather subdued and elegant (‘Prince Johnny’, ‘I Prefer Your Love’). Rather comically, as with every other album she has put out, the album contains one song I simply cannot muster listening to more than once (congratulations, ‘Every Tear Disappears’).
The themes Clark explores in her music have mainly revolved around humanity versus artificiality. The idea that in this day and age we have become so accustomed to whatever life we lead that if we were to detach ourselves from it we would end up questioning it and, in the process, discover a new aspect of ourselves that would vanish the second we return to the mundanity of our regular lives. The tainted beauty of this being that our transformed selves would have to be left there standing, never being allowed to be packed into the boot of a car and driven back to the city. These themes are ever present in St. Vincent, especially on tracks such as ‘Rattlesnake’ and ‘Digital Witness’, the latter being very reminiscent of the collaboration between her and David Byrne due to its marvelous use of staccato brass. This is the record that sees Clark fully detach from any semblance of the Annie Clark she started out as. One need only glance at the transitory history of her cover art to see this. It is as if the ideas she started presenting on Marry Me were an extension of her own, reflected in the fairly stoic and normal facial expression found on the cover. Actor sees Clark looking away from the camera, further testing the waters. She screams behind a refrained veneer on the cover of Strange Mercy and finally breaks through as the artistic symbol she has toyed with for so long on the cover of St. Vincent, proudly sitting atop her peculiar throne, gazing assertively at the audience while draped in a futuristic garb of sartorial elegance. St. Vincent has arrived, and I hope she is here to stay.
St. Vincent is out now on Republic