Smile Politely

St. Vincent: Charming, dynamic and just a little bit scary

I can’t begin to dislike Annie Clark. Despite all the obvious reasons—feminine jealousy, envy of the musically impaired toward the musically gifted, a writer’s resentment at not being granted a phone interview—I’m so hooked on the product she produces that I can’t feel a moment of negativity. It’s the catchy, gritty, character-filled songs she creates, the off-putting, quirky videos she stars in, and the musician’s persona that is so clearly not a persona that makes Clark addictive. She’s got the talent, the look, and, vitally, the spirit that makes her worth watching and worth listening to.

Annie Clark is the mind and music behind St. Vincent, the musical product that was formally introduced to the world three years ago with the release of Marry Me on Beggars Banquet Records. Prior to St. Vincent, Clark was no stranger to the indie music scene, having played with The Polyphonic Spree and toured with Sufjan Stevens in the three years prior. Marry Me was her formal debut as an independent musician, and it amassed an ocean of fans eager to hear more.

But Clark’s music is not the sweet, mild-mannered melodies her simple album titles and press photos may suggest. She’s a petite, porcelain, spring-coil-haired charmer, and yet her music is caked with grime, dirt, violent moments bursting out from under indie-pop skin. On Marry Me—named after Maeby’s line on Arrested Development, giving me another reason to love Annie Clark—we were introduced to Clark’s bold, adventuresome songwriting and arrangements. Clark pulls together piano, horns, strings, synthesizer, and a pile of other oddball instruments to create a sound and rhythm that is all her own, layering xylophone over organ and violins over clavietta (basically an old, fancier melodica). The result is eclectic, moody, compelling in its authenticity and spirit.

2009’s Actor (released on 4AD) brought forth more of the dark exuberance that is Clark’s musical playground. She created the album in the enclosure of her Brooklyn apartment, with headphones and a computer as her sketchpad and scenes from her favorite films as inspiration. Clark talks about Actor like a true director, casting each instrument in its unique role to create distinct musical environments. While the viola and upright bass bring in moments of whimsy and mischief, her beloved guitar comes crawling in like a hungry knot of teeth and flesh, gnawing away at Clark’s mesmeric vocals. But even where the pretty remains aurally intact, Actor is an inarguably unsettling album, full of images of failure, imperfection and an ever-growing detachment between World and Self. It’s disquieting poetry, raw and articulate and easy to dissolve into.

This Tuesday (March 30th) St. Vincent plays at The Highdive with local favorites Elsinore opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $13 on The Highdive’s site, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the show comes damn near close to selling out. Let me recommend—strongly, emphatically, enthusiastically—that those of you new to St. Vincent (likely the minority of our readers) take a chance on this show, and you diehard fans get your tickets early. With Annie Clark onstage, the night promises to be lively, dynamic and charged with genuine charm. Don’t miss it.

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