St. Vincent

St. Vincent

Republic Records, 2014

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Mature, intelligent, quirky and catchy, this is indie pop that does the genre justice.

Mind you, I don’t know much about indie pop. I tend to think of it as the acoustic shoegazing overly precious stuff that pipes out of Starbucks and hip bookstores in college towns, the sort of music upper-middle-class white kids listen to when not listening to NPR and driving eco-friendly cars with the same size and horsepower as a hair dryer. Or maybe I’ve been living near Ann Arbor for too long.

Anyway. St. Vincent is Annie Clark’s fourth solo release and the sort of album that makes you want to dig into the back catalog to see what you missed. The music is personal, smart and brings memorable characters to life, thanks to Clark’s voice that is approachable but with a sarcastic edge. She collaborated with David Byrne (Talking Heads) in late 2012 and the spirit and sound of Byrne’s old band seeps through here, most notably on the nervy “Rattlesnake,” “Psychopath” and “Bring Me Your Love,” which changes directions like a wind vane in a tornado.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Pop radio would be better off if it stopped playing Miley Cyrus tunes and started playing stuff like “Birth In Reverse,” which is all distorted guitars, cheerful angular rhythms and a catchy chorus. Other highlights are many: “Prince Johnny” is a moody, detailed story of an ex, “Digital Witness” is willfully artificial befitting its title, “Huey Newton” and “I Prefer Your Love” employ slow, trippy, faux-electronic beats to back up Clark’s voice, and “Regret” is a garage-meets-psychedelic tune that suggests a female alternative to Stone Temple Pilots.

Clark’s wit shines through the songs; she can sing with detached irony like Byrne but chooses, at the right time, to open up just enough, bringing to mind Elvis Costello and Neko Case (especially in the closer “Severed Crossed Fingers”). The approach is precise and a bit above it all – one wishes Clark would let loose like she did on Strange Mercy – but still fun in a reserved sort of way.

Calling this pop music is wrong, yet it’s not as willfully downbeat as most indie pop-rock, choosing instead to forge a path of its own. A cursory listen and glance at the cover art suggests this music takes itself seriously – another hallmark of the genre – but Clark’s guitar playing, humor and the twists in the songs reveal themselves quickly. Confident yet approachable, the kind of album where you start at Point A and end at Point 13.2 without knowing how the hell you got there, St. Vincent is mostly a winner throughout.

Rating: B

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