Feb 21, 2014 Web Exclusive
Last fall, Annie Clark emerged from 18 long months on the road—which included the Strange Mercy tour and her Love This Giant gigs with David Byrne—ready to work. Rather than take the standard time off to recover and recalibrate, Clark dove right into songwriting again, expelling the last year and a half's worth of ideas into these 11 new tracks. The simply-titled St. Vincent arrived far earlier than anyone would have expected from such a busy artist, but it doesn't feel rushed; rather, it's the product of a musician on an inspired streak.
There are a number of ideas born from the two preceding projects being explored in further depth with St. Vincent. The warped guitar sounds from Strange Mercy are distorted even further on the single "Birth In Reverse;" the churning rhythms and skronky horn bursts of "Digital Witness" feel culled from her collaboration with Byrne. Those holdovers aside, the music's up to her expected levels of self-innovation: "Bring Me Your Loves" showcases her talent at making prosaic instrumentation seem otherworldly, with its live band setup digitally manipulated to the point where it sometimes sounds alien. ("Rattlesnake" features guitar effects which could nearly pass for synthesizers, a kazoo, a Theremin, and a helicopter.) Clark has placed a heavier focus this time on danceable rhythms, enlisting Dap-Kings percussionist Homer Steinweiss and McKenzie Smith of Midlake to keep the grooves organic.
Much of the record feels understated. "Huey Newton" (inspired by a waking dream featuring the Black Panthers founder) starts off lightly and crescendos into rolling, claustrophobic, heavily-distorted chaos. Meanwhile, "I Prefer Your Love" maintains its calm tempo and is as spacious and pretty a ballad as any she's written. (It's followed by the boisterous "Regret," which should catch any listeners who dared nod off.)
On a whole, St. Vincent might not be quite as distinctive or as audacious as Strange Mercy. Clark, however, has found a consistency which is rare among artists, stemming from the confidence she has in her voice and vision. It's enough to make song after song worth savoring. (www.ilovestvincent.com)
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