Published on March 21st, 2014 | by MacKenzie Warner0
St. Vincent – St. Vincent
The brilliant new St. Vincent album has been making tidal waves; it embodies the digital age while at the same time eschewing our digital lives.
Back in the day, I took a Women and Gender Studies course that focused on women in music. One subject that repeatedly came up was how critics like to focus on the ‘look’ of female musicians rather than their sound. I’m about to commit the same faux pas (although on purpose) because Goddamn! St. Vincent is a weird beautiful babe! Allow me to elaborate:
If you look at the cover of St. Vincent’s newest self-titled album, you’ll notice that Annie Clark looks a little different. Her usual curly raven hair is now a wild shock of silver. Her sweet face holds an icy stare. She looks like an alien queen ruling a digital kingdom from her pink plastic throne. It’s no accident that this change in her appearance coincides with her new extraordinary album.
But before I dive into the new album review, consider this:
I’ve always liked St. Vincent. Her previous albums are refreshingly unnerving and brazenly eerie. That being said, I’ve never been able to free fall into her music. It takes a lot of work on the listener’s part to ‘get’ her music. While I like this challenge, it can be exhausting to chip away at an album that feels like it’s always a step ahead of you. If you like St. Vincent, you will probably agree that she makes you work for it.
Okay, now that I’ve said that, read this:
In February, St. Vincent released her latest opus, ‘St. Vincent.’ I took one look at her on the album cover and knew I had to listen to the music immediately. Upon a first listen, I recognized Annie Clark’s iconic voice, her scratchy guitar riffs, electronic hissing, and bubbling pops, but something was different. I couldn’t put my finger on what had changed stylistically but I knew I had ‘free fallen’ into this album. Now, of course, I know why.
Over the last month, the album has received critical acclaim by critics and fans alike. It’s also been called her most accessible album. It’s hard to disagree. Songs like ‘Rattlesnake’ and ‘Digital Witness’ have a neo-funk vibe that make you want to dance hard and fast. Then there are songs like ‘Huey Newton’ and ‘Birth in Reverse’ that contain parts so static-y and raunchy, you’ll want to gnash your teeth and spaz out. Holding the album together is a blatant synthetic sound. Every song has its own brand of glossiness. Indeed, this artificial vibe gives the album a deliberately shiny electronic aesthetic.
However, don’t be fooled by the album’s sheen. This glossy decoy unravels when you listen to Clark’s sharp lyrics. In ‘Huey Newton,’ for instance, she spits out, “Entombed in a shrine of zeroes and ones…you know, you know!…Safe, safe, and safest, faith for the faithless!” There’s a clear distain for this age of constantly being plugged in. This sentiment continues in ‘Digital Witness’ with lyrics like, “If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me, what’s the point of doing anything?” and, “People turn the TV on, it looks just like a window, yeah!” Her words are filled with truth and venom.
In a Rolling Stone interview, Clark said, “People feel so compelled to document their every tiny, mundane moment that you start to lose track of what’s actually meaningful.” It’s true. It’s become acceptable to live online. We work on computers, we play on our phones, we download, upload, push, click, rant, and generally waste a lot of time surfing the Internet. And since the rise of social media, there’s a frenzied urgency to document our every movement, thought, meal, etc. We try so hard to make our lives look glamourous, beautiful, and fun, but the truth is we’re stuck behind screens most of the time. This anxiety is palpable in St. Vincent’s music. Whether it’s in the high-strung notes, relentless beating of the drum machine, wailing guitar, or ominous lyrics, our conscience is there waiting like a snake coiled back for attack.
So back to the way she looks. I don’t know if it really matters that her appearance matches her music style, but I think it’s fitting. Her futuristic look perpetuates the minimalism and haunting elements in her songs. But it’s also glamourous, unsettling, and daring. She’s clearly trying something new and it’s working. In the same Rolling Stone interview, Clark said, “I’m always pushing myself… Not just trying to imitate the old rock lexicon, which I love dearly and know intimately, but trying to chase down what I imagine.”
To that, I say rock on, St. Vincent. Rock on.