St. Vincent's music boasts an intelligence that is both daunting and alienating (in a good way). From the intricate artistry of her first records, to the measured ferocity of Strange Mercy to her more rhythm-oriented collaboration with David Byrne, her work has been almost uniformly wonderful, yet intimidating. Her songs have often played like museum pieces, to be admired and appreciated, if not necessarily loved. With her new, self-titled record, St. Vincent erects new barriers of aloofness while also managing to make her most accessible, exciting record yet.
In 40 brisk minutes, St. Vincent features 11 electrifying tracks, each one packed with hooks of both the musical and lyrical sense. Each song boasts its own unique personality, while fitting in seamlessly with the broader record as a whole. If that seems like a rudimentary observation of the record, it's only because the meticulous care with which Annie Clark has assembled the record is evident in every twist and turn. It's all a bit strange, as would be expected, yet organic, natural, and free-flowing.
St. Vincent can be roughly divided into two halves. Side 1 feels like Clark couldn't decide which song to release as a single, so she filed them all alongside each other, to staggering effect. The ominous "Rattlesnake" gives way to (lead single) "Birth in Reverse"; when Clark spoke to The Current's Mark Wheat for her Theft of the Dial session, she noted that she wanted it to be the record's single, as it bridges the gap between her previous work and her new compositions. The mysterious "Prince Johnny" features one of the record's best vocal melodies, and the languid "Huey Newton" abruptly gives way to a crunching coda, leading to the horn-driven "Digital Witness." As with many great artists, the level to which one chooses to read into the lyrics is up to the listener: one can read "Digital Witness" as a commentary on our obsessions with technology, or simply enjoy it for its groove.
"I Prefer Your Love" appears at the record's center, reading much like a hymn, down to its main refrain, "I prefer your love to Jesus." It's the lowest-key song on the album, allowing a breather before the adrenaline rush of Side 2.
Even on the heels of the amazing first half, it was the second half of St. Vincent that made me truly fall in love. Like the New Order song of the same name, "Regret" belies its sad title and sentiments with a springy guitar part. The synth-heavy "Bring Me Your Loves" and "Psychopath" are each brilliantly catchy; for album tracks buried on the record's second half, they stand with any pop songs I've heard this year. "Every Tear Disappears" is fittingly idiosyncratic, before the album wraps with the evocatively (and gruesomely!) titled "Severed Cross Fingers," with another captivating vocal melody. I may be getting jaded as I approach the big 3-0, but encountering a filler-free album is an increasingly joyful experience.
With each release, St. Vincent has been anointed new levels of acclaim. This is the record, I feel, where she takes a quantum leap forward, and into the top tier of artists making music in the 21st century.
Have you heard the album? What do you think of it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
- Contribute to MPR from April 7 to 13, and get this CD as a thank-you gift.
- Review: St. Vincent presents a glorious spectacle in Minneapolis Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, may not be of this world. She took the stage at the State Theatre in Minneapolis last night with her startling new look -- and she never tired or faltered during her two-hour, 20-song set, flowing seamlessly from one song to the next.
- On the Ball with Mark Wheat: Like a Pass in Reverse This week, Mark takes a look at which sides in the Premier League showed character -- and which did not; meanwhile, a vital Monday game pits Chelsea against Manchester City. Plus, a look ahead to a luncheon with 2012 FIFA Coach of the Year Pia Sundhage, and a Brazilian-style rainbow pass demonstration from none other than Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent.
- St. Vincent performs in The Current studios Onetime Polyphonic Spree member Annie Clark made her debut under the recording name St. Vincent four years ago with 2007's "Marry Me." But it was her sophomore effort, 2009's "Actor," that propelled her to critical acclaim and widespread popularity in the indie-rock community. Now, two years later, she has returned with her third album, "Strange Mercy."
- St. Vincent performs in The Current studios Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, paid her dues as a back-up musician throughout the indie world before emerging as a unique voice in 2007.
- St. Vincent performs in the Current studio Singer/multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark said she came up with the name St. Vincent to put no limitations on what she could do. She said with a name like St. Vincent, the band could be "expandable and could include other people and really be a whole entity."
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