New York based singer songwriter Annie Clark has been creating mystical, dreamlike music under the stage name St. Vincent since 2006. As an influential member of the alternative music community, she’s collaborated with renowned creatives such as Sufjan Stevens, The Polyphonic Spree and Talking Heads’ David Byrne (whom she released the album ‘Love This Giant’ with in 2012).
Her self-titled fourth album is a magical exploration of violent imagery and nightmarish hallucinations. It’s a moody record filled with mental and grandly experimental sounds. Although the album is certainly bizarre and will definitely not be to everyone’s tastes, it’s perhaps St. Vincent’s most accessible record and a great starting point for anyone not familiar with her previous work. That said, everyone must hear the incredible dreamlike track, Cruel, from her previous record, 2011’s ‘Strange Mercy’, before listening to ‘St. Vincent’.
There is a certain bravery to ‘St. Vincent’, which sees Clark bare her soul to the world and she has described it herself as “more extroverted than Strange Mercy”. Her use of polysemus lyrics place the music’s emotions somewhere in the realm between insanity and joyfulness. She has taken real life experiences – from the bizarre to the mundane – and used them to create stories over the album’s 11 songs.
Opening track Rattlesnake retells the tale of Clark’s real-life journey into the desert and her development in becoming more attuned to nature. It features alien like vocals in the chorus and an epic Jack White-esque guitar solo, proving that Clark is one of the greatest alternative guitarists playing today. Birth In Reverse is an upbeat danceable track highlighted with schizophrenic synths and a pulsating rhythm section.
The layered and gloomy Prince Johnny is a slow burning ballad that shows Clark playing around with creating textures with contrasting melodies and instruments. One of the album’s standout tracks, Huey Newton, sees Clark’s angelic vocals melt into nauseatingly beautiful instrumentation that becomes more and more aggressive as the song progresses.
Lead single Digital Witness combines lyrics regarding the criticism of modern technology with the up-tempo grooves of Motown-esque trumpets. Its condemnation of an increasingly vain society where everything needs to be documented can be eloquently summed up by the lyrics, “If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me, what’s the point of doing anything?”
The album’s overall frenetic energy in tracks such as Bring Me Your Loves and Psychopath are contrasted by the heartbreaking I Prefer Your Love – which Clark apparently wrote about her sick mother – and the album’s melancholic closer, Severed Crossed Fingers.
Clark is certainly one of the hardest working musicians around and her latest album is full of confidence and courage. Perhaps her unique musicality may cause some listeners to tune out, but for others ‘St. Vincent’ will be a glorious journey into the twisted but awesome mind of the mysterious Annie Clark.
This review was written for and published on SYN’s features blog