Annie Clark, more commonly referred to by the stage name St. Vincent, is an eccentric, brilliant musician who is one of the most inventive guitarists around. Her self-titled fourth studio album is an absolute masterwork to add to her three previous phenomenal albums. A grungy work of loud guitar, brilliant vocals and massive changes of pace, Clark described the album in a recent interview as “a party album you could play at a funeral.” “St. Vincent” is a colossal effort from one of the most exciting voices around.
The album hits the ground sprinting with “Rattlesnake,” an autobiographical song in which Clark depicts her terrified reaction upon almost stepping on a rattlesnake while completely naked during a midnight walk in Texas. The song rattles along with a warped synth beat cruising in the background as Clark rips it on the guitar. Her guitar solo near the end of the song is an absolutely killer way to round out a great starting track. We move right into “Birth in Reverse,” a poppy beat accented by Clark’s distorted guitar and eloquent lyrics about death. This is what makes Clark so brilliant: No matter how great and unique her guitar is, her vocals and lyrics still never miss a beat.
Following “Birth in Reverse” is “Prince Johnny,” a slower tune featuring clever lyrics: “Remember the time we went and snorted / the piece of the berlin wall that you extorted.” The song is actually quite a powerful “short story,” as Clark puts it, that outlines someone just looking to be “real.” “Huey Newton” is the next song, a slower ballad that quickly changes pace and moves into a really distorted grunge song halfway through, a change that is unexpected but smoothly executed.
Then we move onto “Digital Witness,” the most popular single of the album. This song comes complete with a brass section, like that of her collaboration album with David Byrne (of the Talking Heads) “Love the is Giant.” “Digital Witness” features smooth guitar, a quirky brass section, a badass music video and some of the best lyrics of the album: “People turn the TV on, it looks just like a window.” Next there’s another incredible change in pace with “I Prefer Your Love,” a slower tune that bops along with beautifully thought-provoking lyrics, such as, “Forgive me of all these bad thoughts / I plant into the faces in the fog / But all the good in me is because of you / It’s true / I, I prefer your love to Jesus.”
Clark picks it right back up again with “Regret,” a tune accented by her aggressive distorted guitar and great imagery: “Summer is as faded as a lone cicada call / Memory so bright I gotta squint just to recall.” Here, Clark references the idea of a party record for a funeral: It’s a melancholic song that is so upbeat. “Bring Me Your Loves” is up next with an absolutely funky guitar riff that is nothing but infectious. Lyrically it’s not as deep, but it’s so much fun you can’t help but smile and dance.
Following “Bring me your Loves” is “Psychopath,” another more typical St. Vincent song with that poppy beat matched with a heavy guitar. It’s the least spectacular song on the album, but nonetheless another solid addition to the canon. The penultimate effort on the album is “Every Tear Disappears,” which demonstrates Clark’s ability to make some songs very endearingly creepy. There’s a ghostly-feeling synth that runs parallel to another one of her funkier beats.
The final tune, “Severed Crossed Fingers,” is a slower song, with lyrics like “Well you stole the heart right out my chest / Changed the words that I know best / Found myself with crossed fingers in the rubble there.” It’s a terribly sad song that ends the album on a similar note. But there is a weirdly uplifting feel to the ending that caps off that strange feeling of a funeral party.
An interviewer recently told St. Vincent that “I think the public perception is that you’re one of the most interesting guitar players around.” Her response was an endearingly short “Cool.” Well, St. Vincent, this album is more than cool. It’s absolutely incredible.
You can purchase “St. Vincent” starting Monday, Feb. 24, or you can stream it now for free on NPR.com