Annie Clark, otherwise identified by her more majestic moniker St. Vincent, is the female art-rocker of the moment. Bold, beautiful and anything but self-conscious, the rock queen released her fourth self-titled album on February 25th, 2014, a follow up record to her earlier works Marry Me, Actor and Strange Mercy. Clark also worked on a collaborative album with David Byrne entitled Love This Giant in 2012, and made an appearance on the film soundtrack of The Twilight Saga: New Moon after working with Bon Iver on the song ‘Roslyn’; it is fair to say St Vincent has well and truly earned her place in musical stardom.
St Vincent began her career in the quirky choral rock outfit The Polyphonic Spree, before moving on to share her talents with Sufjan Stevens’ touring band, and eventually deciding to make her name solo in 2006. Her third album ‘Strange Mercy’ brought unstoppable praise, earning her covers of SPIN, Paper, and Under the Radar and dubbed “one of the year’s best” by the New York Times. There is no doubt that her fourth eponymous album will catapult the songstress to new heights. The 11-strong album is brimming with a remarkable confidence; St Vincent ebbs and flows from gritty drawls of electric guitar to gorgeous, earth-shattering ballads in a record packed with contradictions. Talking of the album, Clark expressed her desire “to make a party record you could play at a funeral”, a remark which seems to perfectly sum the topsy-turvy world of this eccentric artiste. Adding to the madness is Clark’s usage of a plethora of instruments, from piano to her famous electric guitar playing. St Vincent was credited for playing thirteen different instruments on her debut album Marry Me in 2007; to call her a talented multi-instrumentalist seems an understatement. If you are wondering if there is anything this woman can’t do, the answer, apparently, is no.
In true polymathic style, Clark appeared on the website Rookie demonstrating her football skills to her audience and even modelling at a fashion show celebrating the 40th anniversary of Diane Von Furstenburg’s famous wrap dress. Clark appears to be irritatingly wonderful in every way. The bold, scratchy rhythm of album opener ‘Rattlesnake’ is instantaneously catchy and, in characteristic St Vincent style, its subject quirky and unexpected: St Vincent meanders around the wilderness, pondering ‘am I the only one in the world’ when suddenly a rattlesnake emerges. The amazing thing about this track though is that Clark actually did this in real life. She reveals in an interview “I went walking around this great expanse of land. There was no one around so I decided to take my clothes off and immerse myself in nature.I saw holes in the path, but did not put two-and-two together until I heard the rattle and caught a glimpse of the snake." St Vincent takes unorthodox to new extremes, and with this, Rattlesnake can only excite listeners for the rest of the album.
The album’s first single release ‘Birth in Reverse’ features the heavy buzz of electric guitar merged with high-pitched notes in a fast-paced frenzy. Equally brazen is St Vincent’s ‘Digital Witness’, which showcases a potpourri of instruments including the interesting choice of the horn. ‘People turn the TV on, it looks just like a window’ sings Clark, in a bid to criticise the younger generation’s fascination with social media and extreme connectivity. St Vincent exposes surprisingly intimate emotions in tracks ‘I prefer your love’ and ‘Prince Johnny’. The former expresses affection of the purest kind in the lyrics “I prefer your love to Jesus”, and ‘Prince Johnny’ is a nostalgic yet ambiguous tale of a close relationship. Described in the past as fluctuating between “happiness and madness”, St Vincent floats between the ethereal and the brash, the tender and the heated in a rainbow of human emotions.
St Vincent’s fourth album is enchantingly sure-footed. She is an artist who enjoys puzzling over the ups and downs of human existence, and this reflects in her surprisingly relatable music. Clark has commented how "Lyrically, I'm always so interested in how complicated people are and the notion of true ambivalence". I can’t imagine who could be more interesting than Clark herself; she deserves one of music’s most prolific careers.
Words - Claudia Turnbull