This is the rare and beautiful moment in music when a great artist becomes one of the greats. On St.Vincent, her self-titled 4th LP, Annie Clark has turned the corner in her career and realized her full potential as an artist. This is her at her most confident and schooled, writing meaningful songs and still wailing on the guitar in ways that at times don’t seem physically possible. This is her Mt.Olympus and it’s really fucking excellent.
On the heels of her Love This Giant collaboration with the great David Byrne, Clark has developed into a different type of artist. One that’s taking creative leaps into uncharted land, that reaches far beyond her music. The visual aesthetic she’s established for herself shows a full commitment to being the artist she wants to be. Extreme example, but this is similar to what Kanye West has accomplished. It’s an act, but it’s not. It’s true artistic expression and Clark believes in every figment of her art. She’s extremely well-read in what it takes to be a pop culture icon (This 2011 interview in which she discusses her fascination with Marilyn Monroe has always struck a chord with me.)
The song-writing on St.Vincent is ambitious, confident and wildly successful. The album’s first single, “Digital Witness,” dissects America’s obsession and reliance on digital media. The extravagant horns peppered in with Clark’s tongue-in-cheek vocals, totally work as a first release. She delves into this theme in more scathing fashion on the incendiary “Huey Newton”:
Fuckless porn sharks
Toothless but got a big bark
Live children blind psychics
Turned online assassins
So Hale-Bopp, Hail Mary, hail Hagia Sophia
Oh it was a lonely, lonely winter
The album’s opening track, “Rattlesnake,” might be the biggest, boldest and most seamlessly explosive opening track of the year. I myself have a moment I’ll never forget with this track: On a bus at 5am, at the base of Machu Picchu, I’m in the very back of a packed bus that takes you up to the entry to one of the world’s greatest wonders. It’s dark, I can’t even really see the faces of anyone else on this bus and I cue up St.Vincent and press play. I was absolutely gripped by the intricacies of “Rattlesnake,” my whole life flashed before my eyes as I began the last leg of a journey that changed me forever…I thought about all of the events that happened in the last year+ to bring me to this very moment in time…in South America, in Peru, 3 days into a solo trek, at the foot of Machu Picchu, over 4000+ meters above sea level. I nearly lost my shit.
My mind swirled with memories…memories of seeing St.Vincent at Terminal 5 in New York before I left in March and her performance of “Regret,” my favorite song on this album and just absolutely shredded away at the most perfect and poppy guitar riff. I thought about her robotic movements in a polemic performance of “Birth in Reverse” on SNL that left Americans scratching their heads.
I thought about the first time I saw St.Vincent at Velvet Jones in Santa Barbara in 2007….How this beautiful and delicate being, produced such amazing sounds through her voice and her guitar…oh that guitar. And you see…this is what the greats do. They can bring back a flurry of emotions and memories of your life and their own, with just a simple three and a half minute song. They can write a song where they sing “I prefer your love to Jesus,” have everyone up in arms about that claim, only to realize that it’s a song about how much she loves her mother, who nearly passed away last year. They can tackle tragic historical figures and loop their story back into life for misunderstood groups in New York.
And Clark does all of this and makes it accessible and beautiful. She manages to make it all pop and that’s when you know an artist has a grasp on what it means to be an artist. This album was at the top of my list for most of the year, is hands down her finest work to date and should go down as one of the finest examples of blurring the line between whatever “indie” is and isn’t.