With the amount of bands and artists available at our fingertips in the digital age, it can be hard to hear someone and think to yourself, ‘now there’s a distinct sound.’ Luckily, there will always be
artists, no, trailblazers, who distinguish themselves with a sound and singularity that rises above the generic riffraff assaulting us auricularly (Note: Generic riffraff is never heard on WSUM!!!). Think of the chameleonic David Bowie as opposed to the cookie-cutting Mumford and Sons.
This all goes to say that with her self-titled fourth album, St. Vincent (a.k.a the incomparable Annie Clark) has established herself as one of those trailblazers. You listen to this and no one comes to mind, at least for me, who can compare to how she performs on the record. As of now, it’s one of 2014’s bests.
Take to the opening track “Rattlesnake” and what I say is immediately apparent. Additionally, I’m glad to hear St. Vincent is letting the guitar speak for itself from the very get-go, where sometimes you’ve lost focus of it on prior albums, with an outro riff that is venomous (in all the best ways).
Really, the entire first half of this album is a collection of some of the best work she has written as St. Vincent. While allowing her guitar to flourish over the top, it has a lot of the luscious electronic backdrops and hard-hitting percussion that were prominent on her 2012 collaborative album with David Byrne Love This Giant. Get what I’m saying?
What I’m saying is HOLY $#*! THE B SECTION of “Huey Newton” is filthy. That is a riff. Reminds me of some of the heavier Lonerism cuts or “Grot” (the B side of the Krokodil Record Store Day single from 2012) with a little more spring in its step.
The second half of the album shows that, for our benefit, the array of sounds has never been as varied on previous albums. “Bring Me Your Loves” has a beat that makes me think of electronic Janelle Monáe plus crazy, post-Zion Lauryn Hill and “Severed Cross Fingers” is reminiscent of an 80s Moog-infused ballad.
I think what really won me over on this album was being able to hear an artist shedding layers and revealing more to the listener with explorative lyrics. “All the good in me is because of you,” Clark sings in “I Prefer Your Love,” a song about her mother, showing her softer side that has rarely been seen with such candor. Lyrics on “Huey Newton” and “Digital Witness” tactfully criticize our internet-driven craves for attention. She even opens up about loneliness on “Regret” (“I’m afraid of heaven because I can’t stand the heights / I’m afraid of you because I can’t be left behind”).
Perhaps it’s a fault my own that I can’t think of any artists that compare to St. Vincent/Annie Clark, but I think it’s just a credit to her uniqueness as an artist. You can hear how she has progressed, from performing with a freak folk artist like Sufjan Stevens and an indie rock chamber orchestra like the Polyphonic Spree. Her solo journey is an evolution that been continuing since the opening bars of “Not Now” on her 2007 debut Marry Me. She’s an artist that continues to raise the bar above her pedigree and influences (Byrne, included) with biting witticism and palpable guitar work as her creative signature and modus operandi.