Some, Not All, of The Best of Last Year will be a very late series of posts of music, film, and other things that stood out above even the most exceptional in 2014. A best of list with no specific order or reason, much like the site itself. Just a compilation of more recent things to enjoy. Note: Although I said there wasn’t a specific numeration between the albums I would be writing about for this series, St. Vincent is teetering between the number one and two spots. Also this post is severely unorganized. Sorry.
When the images and sounds of St. Vincent’s new album first started surfacing I was wide eyed with anticipation. The brown curly locks of Annie Clark, the primary component of the band, had transformed into a silver frenzy and her songs sounded stranger than ever. All I could think was “This is what happens after you work with David Byrne for a year.” By saying that, I’m not taking any credit away from Annie Clark nor am I devaluing the work. It’s like wine exposed to air for a while; the decantation allows for an openness and new life to flourish by simply being around it. You have virtually no choice but to rise above the highest peaks you’ve made after working with Byrne. If anything, the collaboration has made Clark embody herself/St. Vincent than ever before.
Take Clarks lyricism. Every St. Vincent record has be filled with dense and heavily referential lyrics waiting to be analyzed. This album takes up a few more notches, echoing louder that it’s earlier sources. “Severed Crossed Fingers” and “Birth in Reverse” directly allude to Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, one of my favorite novels/interconnected collection of short stories. In a little over three minutes, “Birth in Reverse” contemplates the banality of life, adherence to others, desire for progress, and death with a catchy cadence. You don’t even know your singing along to these crestfallen images until well after the song is done.
The opening sounds of “Rattlesnake” enlighten you to new desolate world that St. Vincent has ventured out into. Familiar but wrought with abstraction and undefinable newness. It’s these electronic button noises that start them album up, setting the table for technologically critical tracks and an overall urge for personal interactions. The jazz heavy “Digital Witness” is the clearest declaration of the pitfalls in a technologically dependent life. It embodies a character that sees television as living a life and a constant digital expression as purpose to do things. The song is an absorption of a life, a personality, into the world of digital media. The song ends on the desperate plea “Won’t somebody sell me back to me?”, to be once again a person of their own.
The album also thrusts Clark from guitar virtuoso to a verifiable guitar god. The guitar solos come out of nowhere and crash hard on some of the songs. They are riffs that even with a massive waning would still shake the listener with their aura. “Bring Me Your Loves” makes her guitar sound like beacon of alien directives buzzing so directly in your brain under the line “I took you off your leash”, something you may not exactly want to happen. Clark commands her instrument with a swift confidence that few have, in studio or live.
St. Vincent is as much an aural experience as it is visual. I was lucky enough to see her powerhouse performance at Pitchfork Festival this summer. A robotic voice requested for no digital recording of the show from the crowd. Clark and her band lithely floated out to the stage with well-choreographed dance moves that strutted the line between sexy and alien. It was the kind of set that you can’t believe your seeing, especially when Clark rocks out atop of security guards who hold her as he sways into the crowd. When listening to the more chaotic moments on the album I can’t help but imagine Clark angrily thrashing her guitar before slamming her head into a bass drum.
I fell for St. Vincent upon listening to a very minimalistic cover of “These Days”. It is my favorite cover of that song, surpassing the Nico version/original (depends on who you ask). It’s a tender and infinitely sadder in Clark’s hands and voice. Never did I think she would take me down such lovely winding road where this self-titled album was a destination. I’m sure glad I stuck around.