The Music of St. Vincent

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Engaging in new listening experiences can be an arduous task for me at times. It is somewhat rare that I become a devoted listener to any artist based on others’ introductions or recommendations—timing is everything. Although I trust my friends’ tastes and opinions—as most of them lean toward the same musical aesthetic I do—it seems there is a frame of mind I must possess in order to absorb music on a personal level, rather than a dutiful one. This is what makes serendipitous moments so great. It is often the only way some get introduced to art or artists one would otherwise not be intent on attempting to engage with.

Recently, I was serendipitously introduced to an entrancing recording artist known as St. Vincent. What do I know about St. Vincent? Not much at all, only what I have read and heard on the hyperlinked community of the internet. To that end, I am simply providing some of the details I have read, as well as my initial reaction to this experience.

Let’s begin by pulling the robe off the monk, St. Vincent is Annie Clark. Annie is a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and, at 23, she is also a seasoned touring guitarist by way of The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens. The four songs I have heard thus far have been an experience in sonic poetry. The frequency at which her musical imagery travels is well suited to take a listener to another plane. Alone with her guitar she accomplishes more than many do with an ensemble of musicians. The music is sometimes ethereal, sometimes impressively technical but all the time engaging and evocative.

The raw expression of her vocals only enhances the atmospheric landscape she produces with her instrumental tones and the lyrics seem perfectly suited for the timbre of her quizzical, sultry voice. Her vocals have a familiar yet distinctive quality. If I may use a cliché method of comparison, Annie Clark is like Bjork meets Shirley Manson with a quick little handshake from Karin Bergquist, often possessing the sound of John Lennon if he were female. She is a breath of fresh air in this farm grown, manufactured diva wannabe crazed world.

The songs display an interesting and wide spectrum of amalgams. The breaks that occur in the song “Your Lips Are Red” feel more like freeform jazz, possessing horn stabs, odd harmonic dissonances, and syncopations. Instead of the slow building song erupting into an explosion of the utter frenetic chaos of free form jazz it suddenly begins to float, like the moment after take off where you no longer feel the plane propelling itself forward at 460 mph. “Marry Me” feels like a “Dear John” letter in reverse and moves to the other end of the spectrum, changing instrumentation to a soft piano and hand clap interspersed with string treatments.

If you like entrancing and hypnotic music that subtly forces you to engage yourself in thought, give St Vincent a listen. Don’t take my recommendation just think of this as a moment of serendipity unless, of course, you came looking for something about St. Vincent.

(Marry Me is St. Vincent’s debut recording on the Beggar’s Banquet label, released July 2007)