Albums of 2014 (#4): St. Vincent – St. Vincent
A confident fourth album, a fierce new visual style, a band that is – by one account – the best in the world... Annie Clark has had a pretty good year, all told
“I wanted to make a party record you could play at a funeral.” That’s how St Vincent, known to her parents as Annie Clark, announced her self-titled fourth solo album at the end of last year, succinctly self-summarising an artist who always seemed to thrive in that in-between: hovering between light and dark.
With one hand, St Vincent offers lyrics that seem to scoff cynically at the world ('Oh what an ordinary day...take out the garbage, masturbate'), often plummeting into a certain brand of gloominess ('Morning, pry the windows open, let in what's so terrifying...') that jars. And with the other hand, she presents a singular version of spiky pop-rock, thrown recklessly into a blender of styles: funk, baroque, noise, punk, and new-wave (the similarities with frequent collaborator David Byrne are obvious). Bleak, pessimistic words are aligned to ferociously funky rhythms, sometimes only, it seems, for the simple and cathartic purpose of dancing. If there has to be funeral, you’d want Annie Clark hosting the wake.
“I wanted to make an audio scrapbook of where I'd been, just so that it felt even more real" – Annie Clark
No stranger to these pages (she topped The Skinny’s year-end poll with Strange Mercy in 2011), Clark told us back in August that she took a mere 36 hours of holiday from the end of her last tour, before deciding to springboard straight into work on album number four. 2014, you could argue, has been something of an annus mirabilis for the Texas-born musician. There have been no accidents. The year seemed to usher in an era of new-found self-confidence, borne out in a series of carefully stage-managed moves for St Vincent, the pseudonym, the band, the art project, or all of the above. Clark bleached her hair, for one thing, transforming her black curly locks into a shock of white, and started wearing clothes that appeared to be from another time and place entirely, all angles and pastel hues.
This aesthetic continued in her music video for first single Digital Witness: a dazzling, bizarre, Lynchian future-vision, in which you find yourself looking for meaning in a head movement or a blink. She also enlisted a choreographer to prescribe strange, specific, jaunty new dance moves for her and her band during their lengthy tours, dance moves she’s described as “violent and weird, a celebration and fight at the same time.”
And then, most importantly, she released her fourth album, in some ways her most personal – it is self-titled, after all – but also her most barnstorming, laced with attitude and dark mystery (the track Severed Crossed Fingers, for example, seems to be a terrifying eulogy for Clark’s own future). In July, Vice magazine called St Vincent the "best rock band in the world." In all the critical fuss, St Vincent has not quite translated to chart-bothering mainstream success; the latest record did not crack the top 20 in the UK. Her experimental art-rock stylings seem destined to leave Annie Clark the eternal outsider. You get the impression she wouldn’t have it any other way.
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