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Roughly 48 hours after the tour supporting Love This Giant — the heralded collaboration between St. Vincent and David Byrne — came to a close, Annie Clark wrote “Birth in Reverse” in her New York apartment. High from the creative fumes ignited by a year of touring behind her own phenomenal record, Strange Mercy, that immediately bled into a year and a half on the road with the Talking Heads frontman and musical mastermind, Clark couldn’t sit still. As she told NPR early this year of the few-month window during which she wrote this week’s Top Rated St. Vincent, “ I thought I was going to take that off and just learn how to make soup or whatever — I mean, just be a person.”
Writing her best album yet, adopting an alluring cult leader-meets-haute couture look, perfecting Stop Making Sense-esque moves and her signature onstage shuffle — all quite a few steps away from making mushroom bisque. Although we know we can’t elucidate the mystifying Clark with five simple reasons, we’re damn sure this record presents the most evolved St. Vincent yet. Consider this our suggestion that you grab yourself a copy of the album and secure your tickets to her current tour as soon as possible.
The Influence of One David Byrne
When rehearsing for the Love This Giant tour, Clark told Rolling Stone that her instinct pointed to upsurging the guitar across the record’s 12 tracks, while Byrne suggested the songs remain horn-centric. Clark agreed and said, “it gives the record its own identity rather than sounding like St. Vincent with David Byrne.” If such was the case for that 2012 release, St. Vincent sounds like St. Vincent with David Byrne’s influence. The convulsing horns of the technology-denouncing “Digital Witness” exude Love This Giant, and the jagged, dancey rhythms that merge with Clark’s signature guitar fuzz culminate in an inspired collection of music. —Amanda Koellner
A Resulting Confidence
Saying that this woman has likely found greater confidence is not to say that Clark has ever lacked tenacity or courage. But see, for example, her Diane von Furstenberg runway performance, as she rocked through new songs from beneath a pale violet mop of curls, demanding every ounce of attention in a room that finds nearly every attendee vying for it. Or consider the fact that David Byrne imprinted his official stamp of approval on Clark in the most flattering and serious way possible: by creating and touring behind a body of work with the musician. Much of this new confidence is seen in the album’s simple title. As Clark has said several times, the decision to self-title the record came from a read through Miles Davis’s autobiography and feeling very at home with herself. “He talked about how the hardest thing for any musician to do is sound like themselves,” she said. “I think I sound like myself on this record, so I self-titled it.” Confidence. —Amanda Koellner
Clark’s Always-Evolving LIve Show
For her new album, St. Vincent told Exclaim that making music that people could move to became more of a priority. “I was almost reverse-engineering the record to make sure there could be a really energetic live show,” she said. She recently told Pitchfork this effort resulted in a moment where she considered pumping smells into the venues (though expenses, the possibility of annoyance, and allergies all put a pin in the idea), part of her continued effort to “suspend disbelief for an hour and a half” while putting on a concert. Part of this idea came from working with Byrne on Love This Giant, as their live performances included stage choreography and a high level of stylization. Of course, that’s not to say her shows before Byrne were restrained — check out the pounding her guitar takes during “Marrow”. –Erin Carson
Her Badass New Look
Maybe St. Vincent had us fooled. To this point, she’s always looked like a nice girl with curly hair, the kind you’d run into at a coffee shop or anywhere young city dwellers congregate. For all the edge or unpredictability in her music, her personal style has been pretty straight ahead. That is, until her collaboration with Byrne. In a Lady Gaga-esque turn, the pair stared out from the cover in an almost American Gothic pose with facial protrusions influenced by Beauty and the Beast. It was jarring, but a step that makes her newly bleached, light purple-tinted hair less surprising. Similarly, the covers of her previous solo albums evolved from the big-eyed medium shots of the singer (Actor’s cover is non-awkward kin to the posters for The 40-Year-Old Virgin) to Strange Mercy’s plastic-sealed scream. And for her new self-titled? Wherever she got that long, multi-colored, shiny gown, it sure wasn’t Forever 21. —Erin Carson
Her Continued Musical Progression
In the press release for Strange Mercy, Clark said, “I didn’t tinker. I tried to keep the arrangements pretty simple and use just enough instrumentation to get the point across. I didn’t want anything to get in the way.” This notion is both extended to and shattered on St. Vincent, with Midlake’s McKenzie Smith and Dap-Kings percussionist Homer Steinweiss on groove duty. This album boils with guitar breakdowns so heavy they break (as on the halfway mark of “Huey Newton”) and Bowie-like ballads (“Severed Crossed Fingers”).
In that same 2011-issued press release, Clark said, “Marry Me is very cute — it’s funny and sarcastic, and that’s fine. I was 22, and that’s who I was. And Actor was cerebral… I’ve grown beyond that now. I want to make a record that’s more human every time.” With the Facebook-fearing “Digital Witness”, Ambien-trip-resulting “Huey Newton”, and love letter to her mother, “I Prefer Your Love”, Clark feels as human and intimate as she ever has. —Amanda Koellner