It’s been a slow and steady climb for St. Vincent, the stage name of Annie Clark. At the beginning of her career, she seemed so attached at the hip to the deepest and darkest of experimental spaces, sharing bills and tastes with people like Marnie Stern and Dirty Projectors, that the idea of her ever appearing across a table from Stephen Colbert (which happened a couple days ago), or on the CD rack at your local Starbucks, seemed impossible to fathom.
It's apt that Clark’s seated on a throne on the cover of St. Vincent's new self-titled LP. We deserve to live in a world where people as talented as Clark sit atop the throne, and have David Byrne on speed-dial (her last album, 'Love This Giant,' was a collab with the Talking Heads boss), and where her scorched guitar gymnastics burn bright on American television. And this week we’ll likely see St. Vincent in the top echelon of the Billboard 200.
Her new album is the first to arrive without a preconceived storyline. 'Actor' was the breakout, 'Strange Mercy' was the critically adored mainstream crossover, but 'St. Vincent' is just another chapter of the woman and her art. Skronky, electronic, occasionally needling, and certainly not afraid to get atonal, but it also holds some of the softest, most human songs Clark has ever recorded. Here are our three favorites.
'Rattlesnake' sounds like an old Atari 2600 game for the first 30 seconds -- just a faded, blocky, sound-card throb and Clark’s thinned-down voice. Eventually, it builds into something a lot more frantic, with her trademark guitar freakouts and knifing electro pulses coalescing into psychotic-break territory. But the inspiration comes from a very tangible place: It’s a story about getting naked in the wilderness and stumbling into a rattlesnake. Usually, something like that is ripe for sexual or biblical interpretation, but as Clark has explained in interviews, it was something that actually happened to her when she was in Texas last summer. Sometimes a song is literally right in front of you.
2. 'Birth In Reverse'
Clark wears two hats. First, she’s a talented, charismatic woman who’s pretty natural in interviews. Second, she doesn’t have any problems talking about herself, or her music, or other music, and that readability has helped St. Vincent’s brand, for the lack of a better term. But, on top of that, she’s also a little bit of a provocateur. Maybe she’d never admit it, but there aren’t many songs that open with a direct reference to masturbation habits spelled out in plain language. 'Birth in Reverse' shows that Clark is not one of those artists who’s afraid to poke and prod at the world just to see what happens.
1. 'I Prefer Your Love'
"I prefer your love to Jesus,” sings Clark in a heavenly bath of golden-haired synth. For all the anxieties baked into the verses, this is one of the purest love songs in the St. Vincent catalog. It’s reassuring that for all of the chaos she can wrought, Clark can also make songs that are simple, calm, and, ironically, holy. It’s a little poem about the faith she feels comfortable putting in her mother, that maybe we can all be saved, and how family isn’t something to be taken for granted. “All the good in me is because of you, it’s true” she yelps, as if she’s overwhelmed by the truth of that statement. It's proof that Clark doesn’t need a guitar to be transcendent.