Tomorrow, art-pop indie-rocker Annie Clark (who goes by the alien pseudonym St. Vincent) will perform at Lupo’s, the forty-year old downtown Providence concert-venue. NPR’s All Songs Considered called her tour “the best live show of 2014” and her robotic choreography, gorgeous voice, and ecstatic guitar solos have earned raves from listeners and critics alike. Expect a review of Sunday’s show later next week, but get ready for the show with my ten favorite St. Vincent songs.
10. The Apocalypse Song– Marry Me (2007)
When her debut, Marry Me, was released in 2007, Annie Clark was an unknown Berklee College of Music-dropout who had toured with indie acts like Sufjan Stevens and spent time honing her guitar skills since she picked up the instrument at 12. Marry Me was greeted with positive reviews, some of which likened her to David Bowie, but it took time until she developed into the powerhouse she is today. It’s a lovely album, showcasing her gorgeously high-pitched vocals and clever ear for inventive instrumenation. The album doesn’t have a clear, showstopping centerpiece like some of her later records, but “The Apocalypse Song” is a standout, featuring some frantic electronic production and a great vocal hook. Ultimately, the album holds together well but is largely an indication of bigger things to come.
9. The Strangers – Actor (2009)
When Clark returned to the studio for her second album, she was coming back from a tour that lasted over a year. To rejuvanate her musical energy, she watched childrens’ films, mostly classic Disney, and tried coming up with songs that matched the movies. That backstory might conjure thoughts of a childish concept album. But it actually speaks to the crafty weirdness that blossoms on Actor, a more defined and wide-reaching production that her previous one. “The Strangers”, a catchy and multi-layered opener, immediately makes that clear.
8. Strange Mercy– Strange Mercy (2011)
After two good albums, St. Vincent returned with her first great one, Strange Mercy. The record is a bustling mixture of catchy yet twisted electronic-rockers and haunting indie-pop ballads, forming a unified whole with more invention, depth, and power than anything she had done before. The title track is an almost slow-motion saga of adolescent angst (at least that’s what the lyrics sound like) with warped drums and a whispering guitar part.
7. Actor Out of Work– Actor (2009)
Another track from Actor, this represents many of the defining qualities of St. Vincent’s work: enigmatic but elegantly sung lyrics, unorthodox drumming, and weird, wonderful guitar work.
6. Digital Witness– St. Vincent (2014)
Funky and infectious, “Digital Witness” sets some of St. Vincent’s most questioning, resonant lyrics against undeniably danceable music. “Digital witnesses, what’s the point of even sleeping?/If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me/What’s the point of doing anything?”, she sings. She seems to be mocking her social-media crazed generation, commenting on the current “Watch me live my life on a screen!” ethos with humor, wariness, and a touch of sarcasm. Plus, those are some great horns.
5. Chloe in the Afternoon– Strange Mercy (2011)
The opening track of Strange Mercy boasts perhaps her more infectious hooks: a seductive, dreamy chorus of only four words (“Chloe in the afternoon”), beguilingly repeated. That’s not to mention the dirty guitar licks and drum pad genius that round out the sound.
4. Birth in Reverse– St. Vincent (2014)
A lurching, machine-like guitar part gives way to a jittery drum beat and fuzzy guitar work on one of St. Vincent’s hardest-rocking songs.
3. Cruel– Strange Mercy (2011)
Many St. Vincent songs start slow, with beautiful singing or an electronic beat, then gain speed and race forward. This is one of those. Some echoey vocals and electronics open the song, which moves on to an infectious riff, some casual soloing, and a terrific chorus.
2. Rattlesnake– St. Vincent (2014)
I’ve discussed St. Vincent’s first three albums already, but I’ve avoided her latest, self-titled record until now. For those unfamiliar with her work, it’s a fine starting point (it was the first album of hers I heard), brimming with infectious pop hooks but not lacking in the artsy and adventurous spirit that imbues everything she touches. With her first three albums, she topped herself each time. I’d (hesitantly) put Strange Mercy above this- it’s more consistent and sonically innovative- but the album is far from a disappointment. And songs like “Rattlesnake”, a song with some of the best lyrics and most creative instrumenation of her career, get me excited for where she heads next.
1. Cheerleader– Strange Mercy (2011)
If you listen closely to the lyrics of “Cheerleader”, and read into them, you’ll find a kind of mission statement for St. Vincent’s career. From my perspective, the “I-I-I-I-I don’t want to be a cheerleader no more” line is a layered, thoughtful, and kinda deep metaphor disguised as a pop hook. She doesn’t want to be designated to the sidelines any longer, she wants to be a star. But a star on her own terms, without forgoing any weirdness (you could also see the lyric as a feminist mantra). One thing doesn’t take any reading into: St. Vincent deserves as much as stardom as she can get.