To understand the transformation of St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, one only needs to look at the covers of her albums, all but one of which feature a portrait of herself. When her first album, Marry Me, was released in 2007 Annie Clark couldn’t have more perfectly captured the innocent, every girl look. Now 7 years later she again graces the cover of her newest self-titled work, but this time looks more like a character out of a Tim Burton film than the quirky pop-star she seemed destined to become in 2007.
Despite this dramatic change in appearance, St. Vincent has not had to revamp her sound to continue to grow more and more successful. Not to say she hasn’t picked up bits and pieces along the way (most notably from collaborator David Byrne), but overall she has stayed true to her original ideals and has grown into a force in the indie pop scene.
St. Vincent was recently awarded the 2013 Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Awards in Performing Arts. This can be seen as both good and bad for St. Vincent as a musician. Good, because she is obviously being recognized for the innovative style that she brings to both her music and her performances. Bad, because many fans may see this less like recognition of good music and more like recognition of an artist who although skilled, may be too avant-garde or art-house for their liking. It takes only one listen to realize that the latter is not an issue, as St. Vincent is in equal measure accessible and brilliant.
The album begins strong and stays so throughout, but “Birth in Reverse” is without a doubt the standout track of the front half. It might be the most pop-sensible song on the entire record. This despite lyrics which contain very un-pop themes such as “O what an ordinary day, take out the garbage, masturbate”. Another interesting songwriting moment comes on “I Prefer Your Love”, a song in which Annie divulges to us that she prefers our love (or whoever it is she is singing too) to Jesus Christ himself. Combine these two and one may assume this is an album in which the artist is trying to make some heavy-handed social statement, but something about St. Vincent really does not feel like there is much of a message.
One of the aforementioned influences that can be heard on St. Vincent comes through heavily on “Huey Newton”, which contains an intro so Cake-like that you would think that John McCrea himself would be listed as a collaborator. St. Vincent would also draw comparisons to Arcade Fire’s most recent output Reflektor because of the implementation of a wide variety of instruments which seem to draw significantly from the world music scene, specifically the album’s single, “Digital Witness”.
The best records are often the ones that are the hardest to qualify. St. Vincent, both the artist and the album, may be the most difficult music to put into words that I have experienced. All that you can truly get across is the fact that it is truly enjoyable, even if you can’t really pinpoint why. That might be her most refined skill of all, giving the world music that both delights and surprises the listener without making them feel like they’re not getting it.