I noticed St. Vincent has some new music coming in the coming days, so to stay timely I thought I’d cobble together my favorite St. V tracks to celebrate.
If you’re unfamiliar, St. Vincent is the artist’s name for Annie Clark, a rip-roaring guitar wizard and uncanny sonic chemist. The records she creates and produces all seem to exist in the same bizarro universe, with plenty of sounds and tones that would be aligned with some sort of “modern, post-consumer paradise”, but eschews them in a way to show the cracks forming in the utopia’s foundation. Like previously mentioned, her nimble guitar work is seriously something to marvel at, and you can see it in the first video I posted below. She’s a machine that attempts to be human – a very convincing one at that.
St. Vincent was one of the first “indie” artists I started listening to back in 2009 with the release of her sophomore album Actor, whose cover instantly grabbed me as something to check out. At the time I was only dabbling in the dark underground arts known as “indie rock”, with playlists made up of Andrew Bird, Florence + The Machine, Passion Pit, and other free mp3 downloads offered at the time. St. Vincent still stood out from the pack and her 2011 album Strange Mercy was one of my most-anticipated before its release. It turned out to be my favorite record of that year – go figure. Her follow-up albums, St. Vincent and MASSEDUCTION have been good, but haven’t held my attention the way Actor and Strange Mercy have. It’s been really engaging to watch her sound and career develop over the last 10+ years and I’m incredibly happy she’s seen the success she has. Who knows – maybe this upcoming record will be my new favorite?
1.”Surgeon” [Strange Mercy, 2011]
OK this is CLEARLY the best St. Vincent song. The first single Annie Clark dropped off her 2011 album Strange Mercy. Maybe I have a heightened bond to this track because it was one where fans had to repeatedly tweet #strangemercy to “unlock” the premiere of the song. Strange. Either way, it was the first taste of music post-Actor and it was clear that Clark had leveled up and we were in for some primo stuff. The background synth floats along unassumingly into dissonant chord patterns to unearth shallow dread in the listener, the spindly guitar line gently dancing around Clark’s increasingly urgent lyrics about getting “cut open”, with the song eventually opening up and revealing an absolutely wicked guitar solo, Clark bringing some funk into the equation before blasting the song off into space.
2. “Prince Johnny” [St. Vincent, 2014]
I love this song because it’s not a brainless pop song (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but it’s a slower tempo song without any super weird quirks that’s still incredibly catchy and satisfying. Every part of the track is well thought out and balanced, from the alien choir in the background, the minimal drum machine production, the royal-like vocal delivery coming from St. V beaming down like she’s a hologram addressing some lowly serf in her digital kingdom. Just got a great beat, a killer hook, engaging lyrical ideas and by and far my favorite song on the self-titled 2014 record.
3. “Marrow” [Actor, 2009]
Probably the catalyst or reference point for many St. Vincent songs after the release of Actor: fuzzy, punishing guitars alongside bombastic brass pounding the listener in geometric formations while uncanny synthetic winds establish an air of unease in quieter moments. It’s got a great weight to it, and the dynamic shifts from quiet to loud were thrilling and disorienting upon my first few listens, much like a roller coaster. I’ve heard this track dozens and dozens of time now and it still hits me in a few moments. I love tracks that can flex a good range of dynamics without sounding completely out of control. “Marrow” is pure and calculated in its approach, so it aces this with flying colors.
4. “The Strangers” [Actor, 2009]
The first St. Vincent song I ever heard! It may have been a free download somewhere. I remember getting ads for Actor on Facebook, and also seeing a profile on Annie in Rolling Stone, so I thought I might as well check it out. The Actor cover is so striking and weird (to a 17 year-old) so why not. Even listening to it now I can easily imagine it stuck into a playlist set with Beck, Passion Pit, Grizzly Bear and other big 2009 obsessions of mine. I listened to this song to death back then.
5. “Strange Mercy” [Strange Mercy, 2011]
For a while this was my favorite track on Strange Mercy, its slow burn dynamics and emotional pacing really win me over, plus its semi-narrative songwriting really hooked me in. It’s REALLY satisfying to hear the song kind of build up and harness some righteous anger that the album had been throwing around before this song. Just seems like a much-needed rumination on Strange Mercy, a moment of harsh reality, before being thrust back into the bizarro age of the rest of the record.
6. “Cruel” [Strange Mercy, 2011]
Preparing for internet people to get mad at me for this not being #1. Don’t get me wrong – this is a fantastic song! Clearly! The hook of “cruu-u-u-u-uel” and spiky guitar line are wonderful. The buzzsaw guitar solo is lovely. The glittering synth and pace reminds me of a ballroom dance gone totally wrong. The accompanying music video is also a perfect representation of the track: a family kidnapping St. V and making her their mom, until they bury her alive. It wraps the overall aesthetic of being trapped in a perceived paradise and slowly decaying away on the inside. It’s a fantastic track. A perfect radio rock & pop song.
7. “Birth In Reverse” [St. Vincent, 2014]
It’s clear St. Vincent had a lot of fun writing this song. The chorus is spiky yet rubbery, with rising and falling synth bass set against shredding guitar. Just a lot of good shredding on this song overall. Sometimes we forget how much of a guitar demon Clark is on her newer material. She will kill you.
8. “Now, Now” [Marry Me, 2007]
Oh baby we got a debut album track on here. “Now, Now” was one of the first few St. Vincent tracks I bought on iTunes back in 2009 when Actor came out. Love the harmonic guitar plucks that make up most of the instrumental here, it feels like everything is taking place in either an idyllic dollhouse or in a petri dish. Either one. The track also starts to break open as it goes along, revealing a lush orchestra and unsettling child choir-like backing vocals. Drum part is super well written and fits into building tension as the song continues to decay near the end. Alright so we’ll add “malfunctioning maid android” to the comparisons along with the dollhouse + petri dish comparisons. Kickass shredding to end the track too. Hell yeah. Marry Me sounds VERY different compared to St. V’s current records, reminding me more Regina Spektor than anything, but it’s definitely something I’d recommend returning to.
9. “Huey Newton” [St. Vincent, 2014]
Something about this track seems very geometric to me. Pale pink and blue squares and rhombus floating across a virtual screen, someone trying to solve a futuristic puzzle in zero-gravity. Then the track locks in with those really grumbly guitar lines and Clark says “ok, I’m bad now”. The latter half of the track is definitely the kind of energy she brought onto MASSEDUCTION, really bold and destructive, but indulgent as well. I don’t know – it’s a good turn. Love it.
10. “Chloe In The Afternoon” [Strange Mercy, 2011]
Always love a good intro song. “The Strangers” is the best intro track in St. Vincent’s discography, but “Chloe In The Afternoon” sets the mood for the rest of Strange Mercy immaculately. Where Actor‘s vibe was unsettlingly uncanny, Strange Mercy‘s is disturbingly uncanny. It filters in synthesized hammond keys & strings, deep keyboard bass, stuttering percussion and some truly psycho guitar work. St. Vincent just goes absolutely sicko mode with the guitar on this one. It groans and squirms like some writhing alien creature, throbbing along with Clark’s prickly vocal delivery. It’s dark and inhuman sounding, hard to even pick up that it’s a guitar, even. By the end the song just starts to totally decompose, the crafted idyllic fantasy already malfunctioning and crumbling to the listener. It’s not the most flashy track, but in terms of a stage-setter, it does beautifully.
MORE ESSENTIAL ST. VINCENT TRACKS:
Listen to all these songs HERE.
- “Actor Out Of Work” [Actor]
- “Black Rainbow” [Actor]
- “Cheerleader” [Strange Mercy]
- “Dilettante” [Strange Mercy]
- “Grot” [single]
- “Just The Same But Brand New” [Actor]
- “Krokodil” [single]
- “Landmines” [Marry Me]
- “Laughing With A Mouth Of Blood” [Actor]
- “Marry Me” [Marry Me]
- “Masseduction” [MASSEDUCTION]
- “Neutered Fruit” [Strange Mercy]
- “New York” [MASSEDUCTION]
- “Psychopath” [St. Vincent]
- “Rattlesnake” [St. Vincent]