St. Vincent Had Me At “I Took You Off Your Leash”. I’m Obsessed With Annie Clark.
Annie Clark’s new record is sticky. It sticks in my brain. I’ve been humming its strange horn hooks and angelic choruses to myself for days. “People put the TV on/it looks just like a window/people put the TV on/and throw it out the window.” It makes no sense unless you’ve heard the melody. It makes no sense out of context. The context is Annie Clark. She is St. Vincent.
Clark has been making music as St. Vincent since 2007. Before, she was a member of The Polyphonic Spree and also toured as a member of Sufjan Stevens’ band. She put out three St. Vincent records in five years and in 2012 she wrote Love This Giant with David Byrne and spent the year touring with him. Annie Clark is a fabulous and absolutely underrated musician. She makes music that doesn’t sound like anything else. She dresses it up in high fashion with abstract shapes and mismatched colors that look perfect together. It’s colorful but not psychedelic, it’s misshapen and orderly. Her design and concepts push the limits of sound and push them further down your spine.
Clark herself dresses in extraordinary outfits, exposing various versions of herself. For St. Vincent she dyed her hair gray. It’s fuzzy and frothy, sticking out like electricity. Dressing in color block outfits in her video and in metallic on the album cover, she proclaims the look as a “near-future cult leader”. Clark has become so synonymous with her sound and image even though it’s changed so much over her releases. As she gets more abstract her music gets more potent. She’s pulling us down the rabbit hole and if you’re smart enough, you’ll follow.
Since 2009’s Actor, Clark has been working with producer John Congleton, who’s worked with everyone from Joanna Newsom to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah to Okkervil River and Marilyn Manson. Congleton has been helping Clark master her ear for incendiary hooks and marvelously bizarre chord progressions. Everything about every St. Vincent record is memorable.
A guitar player her whole life, Clark strives to see what else she can make the instrument do. And she does it well. On St. Vincent she’s stretches the layers of sound, her guitar strings sound louder and thicker than six.
“Rattlesnake” thrives not only on its own but also as the album opener. The chorus chants at you to sweat and the beat makes your blood clot. It’s a perfect nervous energy. She matches it with the layers of heavy riffs halfway through “Huey Newton” just after choral synthesizers take us back a few decades.
She has an ear for word choice, combination, annunciation and specificity. Her lyrics are intimidating and intellectual, a commentary on culture, beauty, sex and life.
On “Bring Me Your Loves” Clark sings, “I took you off your leash.” She is in control. She is always in control. She commands that you stare at her, smell her and feel her. Clark opens with “I prefer your love to Jesus” on “I Prefer Your Love” and reminds us that, “we’re all sons of someone” on the unforgettable “Prince Johnny.”
The lyrics on St. Vincent tell us that Clark doesn’t care if you like her. She wants “all of your mind” and won’t wait around for you, even though she doesn’t want to be left behind. To boot, Clark’s priorities, cleanliness and masturbation, are in order (hear “Birth In Reverse”). Annie Clark makes the music she wants to and she excels at it.
St. Vincent is out tomorrow. The arrangements, big and small, change track by track from voluptuous orchestration to breathy poetry. Clark is brilliant in many ways but particularly with the balance of her vocal timbre and musical arrangements. Annie Clark will swallow you and so will St. Vincent.