With her new self-titled record, St. Vincent, Annie Clark of St. Vincent has transformed herself as an artist, both visually and audibly, for her fourth record. She has finally actualized her artistic style: funeral party. She’s often said that her fashion style is as a mistress at her late lover’s funeral. In fact, she recorded the album in a funeral home-turned-record studio. St. Vincent loves pop, but wanted to experiment and give it a dark, rock twist. The record has definite influences from David Bowie but is ultimately something unique.
The cover art for the album is like nothing St. Vincent has done before. She described the theme as “near future cult leader,” and that description is spot on. The background is a white honeycombed tile with Clark sitting in the foreground on a sherbet-colored plastic chair. She has the menacing face of a sorceress in a metallic black and blue gown which clings to her slim frame. Her eyes, meanwhile, are dark and hypnotizing, like they’re telepathically telling us to do bad deeds. Her hair-do is a bizarre, wired sky-grey and is reminiscent of Warhol.
The opener, “Rattlesnake,” is a pretty straightforward track, as far as lyrics go. It’s basically about Clark walking in the heat of the Texan desert. She asks if she’s the only one around. She is, so she takes off her clothes and walks naked in the heat. All of a sudden, she hears a rattlesnake and runs away from it frantically. St. Vincent paints a cool image of her randomly naked in the desert on a walkabout. People don’t normally do that.
The central theme throughout St. Vincent is a sort of renaissance for the artist. Her newfound birth and character transformation are laid out in the tracks that follow.
The second track, and the record’s first single, “Birth in Reverse,” got attention because of its blunt, casual opening lyrics: “Oh, what an ordinary day/Take out the garbage, masturbate.” The song is filled with kinetic energy and is pretty typical of a St. Vincent track.
“Digital Witness” begins in the big brass band style that is reminiscent of her collaboration with David Byrne in Love This Giant. The bassline in the song is pretty awesome.
The song addresses social networking and the need for people to have an audience for their actions. The song comments on how people alter their behavior on the Internet because they know that they are being watched.
She’s writing more on the side of asking existential questions about the current culture surrounding technology, rather than criticizing it. St. Vincent sings in the chorus, “Digital Witness, what’s the point of even sleeping/if I can’t show it, you can’t see me.” It’s about losing the present experience while documenting it.
It’s at times difficult to distinguish the instruments in the record because they all seem to blend together and mimic each other’s sounds.
For example, “Digital Witness” has lots of brass band elements to it, but there’s actually only one horn on the track, a saxophone. Guitars and synths manipulate the brass sound, ultimately creating a colorful palette of layered instrumentation. Her experimentation is pushing limits.
“Huey Newton” is a pretty dark song with simple instrumentation and is really great. The first half of the song is St. Vincent spilling out words to the song’s heartbeat, which is a futuristic, UFO-sounding riff. Clark was inspired to write the song while tripping on Ambien where she “met” Newton, a leader in the Black Panthers.
The words don’t really make any sense and don’t seem to have any connection to Newton.
It’s almost as if Clark’s ADHD is manifesting and she’s writing any word that comes to her mind. The lyrics read, “Feelings/Flashcards/Real Ketchup/Cardboard/Cutthroats/Cowboys of Information.” I’m not really sure what’s going on there, which is probably the point, but it doesn’t matter because the instrumentation is so good.
In the first half of the song, Clark’s vocals in “Huey Newton” go back to the Marry Me album. They’re dreamy, romantic and light. But then Clark all of a sudden changes her ethereal sound into more down-to-earth tones, much like the lyrics of the record, and her literal voice comes out.
The guitar riffs become harsher and mask her vocals, followed by a gospel choir in the background with haunting vocals that sound right out of a horror house. The track is definitely bipolar, but that’s what makes it so intense, which is what St. Vincent is trying to evoke with the record.
“I Prefer Your Love” definitely adds some variety to the record. The song begins in the style of a musical and is a ballad about the love Clark has for her mother. The song is beautiful, heavy and relatable: “But all the good in me is because of you/It’s true/I, I prefer your love/To Jesus.”
Ultimately, Clark is fearless in her music, creating a juxtaposition of guitar riffs, pulsating drums, a pounding bassline and robotic synths. Her lyrics are increasingly pensive, and she is continuously pushing the boundaries of rock and pop with ingenuity.
For St. Vincent, there’s no mimicking past artists, and she’s not concerned with fitting into the “indie” fold, either. Clark makes an art all her own with this record. St. Vincent is her magnum opus, and I’m excited to see where this album’s success will take her artistry.