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  • Budding Artist: St. Vincent

    Wed, 29 Apr 2009 11:57:56

    Budding Artist: St. Vincent - We dissect the chaotic world of St. Vincent to reveal the beautiful music of Annie Clark

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    Like a major scale haunted by a single blue note, there's an undercurrent of tension resonating throughout Annie Clark's music. The songwriter/multi-instrumentalist's persona, St. Vincent, exists in paroxysms between the fictions she dreams are realities and the realities she prays are fictions. While this discord threatens to throw her character's life into disarray, the artist in Clark handles it like two slightly detuned guitar strings, weaving its dissonance into a lush heartbeat. It's this vibrant pulse that gives life to St. Vincent's music, making her lyrics more sincere through their fantasies and her music more beautiful through its sorrow.

    Hearing Clark's commanding presence as a frontwoman today, it's difficult to believe that she spent her early musical career in the background. As one of nine children in a gregarious Oklahoma family, Clark first took to songwriting as an escape to the solace of her bedroom rather than a call to center stage. From this furtive beginning, she went on to attend the Berkley School of Music, and soon after joined the touring band of indie guru Sufjan Stevens. During a 2006 tour supporting Stevens, Clark released the three track EP Paris is Burning. Though the work flew under the radar, the title track embodies the razor thin line between grandiose theatrics and earnest emotion that would become an earmark of her work.

    A year later, Clark became the guitarist of the idiosyncratic collective The Polyphonic Spree. After helping record their third album, The Fragile Army, Clark finally took the plunge into her solo career as St. Vincent with the July 2007 release of Marry Me on Beggars Banquet Records. On the album, Clark takes on two distinct and seemingly contradictory voices: one in the porcelain melodies of her alluring vocals and the other in the convulsive riffs barely ensnared by her incendiary guitar tone. While album's single, "Jesus Saves, I Spend," highlights the former over the latter, her lyric's incisive wit, along with dark comedy of the video, hint towards the emotional chaos beneath the song's composed veneer.

    As Marry Me's endearing sound hooked the hearts of critics and garnered positive reviews across the board, St. Vincent began to punctuate her live show with covers that emblazoned the confidence and prowess of her live performance. In September 2007, she appeared on the then burgeoning Black Cab Sessions, and delivered one of the (now well established) Internet series' most enthralling performances with her rendition of The Beatles' "Dig A Pony."

    Despite the interest the cover stirred in underground circles, it was Marry Me's lead track, "Now Now," that truly revealed the promise of the young songwriter. Built upon a cerebrally syncopated yet visceral driving beat, Clark sculpts a fully realized sonic world in the under five minute track. The song finds the tension in St. Vincent's world at it's most compelling, as the verses defiantly define all the things she will not be—"The carpet you walk on," "The pawn to your king"—before the chorus shatters the assertions with the ominous threat, "You don't mean that, say you're sorry… I'll make you sorry."

    Actor, St. Vincent's sophomore full-length slated for release next week, looks to build upon the strong points of this standout track while ruminating on the blurred lines between identity, acting and full on schizophrenia. It's opening track, "The Strangers," also begins with an honest attempt at defiance, "Lover, I don't play to win for the thrill until I’m spent," though St. Vincent once again shows another side on the chorus, questioning, "What do I keep from all the strangers who sleep where I sleep?" Musically the track is as fleshed out as any of Marry Me's most brilliant moments, with her distinctive guitar work fully embracing the contrasting personality her early work hinted it could embody.

    "Actor Out of Work, " the album's lead single, affirms that this time the cohesive sonic world extends beyond the first track to create a distinctive tone for the entire record. Here St. Vincent's mood relentlessly shifts over the breathless verses; at one moment, "You're a salve," and in the next, "You're the curses through my teeth." Clark's endearing lilt weaves these altering synapse snaps over driving power chords and the occasional distorted hook before arriving at the conflicting confessions, "I think I love, I think I'm mad."

    For all this disorder we find in St. Vincent's world, Annie Clark delivers each maddening mood swing with a delicate touch and beautiful execution that has her dramas primed for consumption by every variety of music enthusiast. For the mainstream, there's an unending array of striking melodies and shimmering riffs, while those who chose to dig deeper will undoubtedly be smitten by the emotional tensions and sonic innovations she effortlessly hems throughout her music. With a critically acclaimed album already in her catalogue, a stronger outing about to hit the scene and a slot to appear on David Letterman in the coming months, St. Vincent is set to be one of the most buzzed over up-and-comers of 2009.

    —Jay Watford

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