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St. Vincent's latest born from obsession, '70s Turkish psych music and digital exhaustion

Published March 28, 2014 3:19 pm

Preview • Riding a wave of attention, musician will play The Depot on Friday.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Here's why St. Vincent is one of the best musicians around today, perhaps the most original and listenable musical auteur since Prince: There are only two notes in the main riff of "Rattlesnake," the first track off the latest self-titled album — A flat and B flat. Just those two notes for the duration of the song.

But somehow Annie Clark, the artist otherwise known as St. Vincent, manages to rhythmically arrange them just right, so they imbue your head and your hips with a pathologically beautiful restlessness. It's impossible not to move. Layer on top of this a simple, stick-in-your-head melody, and you've got a pretty good idea of the strength of St. Vincent's latest masterwork from start to finish.

Not only that, but you also get a sense of the breadth Clark's songwriting has spanned in the years since her first album, "Marry Me," came out in 2007. Her freshman effort's first track, "Now, Now," is driven by a complicated main line and arrangement — two intertwining guitar parts based on plucked string harmonics. It's almost the opposite of the tight, simplified, glitchy and aggressive "Rattlesnake." The two songs could scarcely be more different, but they still have that same St. Vincent feel.

Last summer, she toured with David Byrne, including a stop at Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City, in support of their collaboration album, "Love This Giant." She will be back in town Friday, March 28, for a performance at The Depot.

"I feel really lucky that I am four or five records in and people are more interested in what I'm doing now than ever," she told The Tribune. "And I think the reason for that is that I've been able to hone and follow my instincts this way."

What it shows is that Clark's latest album is appropriately self-titled. It sounds like concentrated St. Vincent, an LP with every musical element that has come to define her songwriting: catchy guitar licks, tight horn arrangements, melodies delivered in a breathy but forward voice, strange and vivid imagery, all with pop percussion and tempos. It's the vodka of St. Vincent albums, distilled down to the minimum level, the absolutely necessary stuff without the accessories and aural accoutrements.

But it's not just the same-old, same-old, either. There are definite departures. "Bring Me Your Loves" is just bizarre — in the best way.

" 'Bring Me Your Loves' is, I guess, a song about obsession. It came about because I was listening to '70s Turkish psych music," she said. "And also going back through my childhood, of things I really listened to when I was a teen, listening to Pantera and Maiden."

Even though "St. Vincent" is a dramatic and strong album, what ended up on the track listing wasn't necessarily Clark's favorite work. She said about seven songs were relegated to the cutting room floor after what she called the " 'Sophie's Choice' of record making."

"It wasn't an obvious record to make or to sequence," she said. "One of my favorite songs I've ever written didn't end up on the record, just because it just simply didn't fit."

Aside from obsession and walking around in the desert naked — the subject of "Rattlesnake" — tracks like "Digital Witness" and "Huey Newton" comment on our ever-more-"connected" world, where even sleep seems pointless if no one is there to notice it and give you some love on Instagram.

"I think that everything about life is in some ways performance," Clark said. "If you rest on that premise, every time you eat a sandwich and take a picture of it and put it on social media and get applause for it, you're not just living life, you're engaged in the performance of living."

The fact that she is a performer as a profession isn't lost on Clark. She said her point is that she doesn't necessarily want to be performing when she's not onstage, her outlet, even though she's "fully aware that everything is performance, and I acknowledge that fact and relish in it."

Part of everyone always being on display for the world is that the world sometimes has things to say about the performance, commenting on anything and everything that finds its way into the public sphere. It's the kind of judgment and constant attention that often plagues people, especially female pop stars. But Clark shrugged off the difficulties.

"I would actually say, aside from people mentioning that I dyed my hair, I think we're getting closer to a postgender analysis. There used to be way more attention paid to this 'She looks like the girl next door, but she's a freak' kind of dichotomy, and that was the narrative."

As for what people say about her now, it has more to do with them than it has with her, she said.

Though she said she likes playing with style and appearance, creating new and interesting things visually, she remains, to the core, a musician. Whatever else goes into pop music, be it style, attitude or what have you, Clark works for the song and not the other way around.

"I don't ever feel like, 'Oh I wish I could put a lot more notes in this moment, but I've got to do something more acceptable.' I never do that. It's always about serving the song and getting at the colors in my head and making them real." —

St. Vincent with guest Noveller

When • Friday, March 28, 8 p.m.

Where • The Depot, 13 N. 400 West, Salt Lake City

Cost • $22 advance, $25 day of show, at Smith's Tix