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The music created by Annie Clark—better known by her stage name, St. Vincent—is as difficult to describe as it is to walk away from. The energetic and incredibly original sound of the singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist is proof of her ambitious tear through modern indie music; before she was St. Vincent, Clark attended Berklee College of Music, toured Europe as a member of The Polyphonic Spree, and played with Sufjan Stevens‘ band during his 2006 tour. It was following this tour that she adopted her sobriquet, and released her first solo record, Marry Me. And so began critics’ furious attempts to describe her complex sound: often comparing her to David Bowie, and labeling the music as everything from “cabaret jazz” to “chamber rock,” reviews consistently emphasized the mesmerizing madness of Marry Me.
2009’s follow-up, Actor, provided a landmark in the enigmatic and multi-faceted landscape of St. Vincent’s career; throughout the record, classical arrangements ooze into fuzz-laden guitars, while Clark’s demure vocals provide a curious contrast to the thoughtful and complex lyrics she sings. In songs like the remarkably catchy “Marrow,” noisy bass lines march along to lock-step drums while oboes and bassoons lay a foundation for noodling melodic distortion. The dark, schizophrenic, and energetic soundscape of Actor once again captured critics’ attention, achieving commercial success and launching Clark onto Billboard’s Independent Albums Chart.
This September, among great speculation and expectation, St. Vincent issued her latest offering, titled Strange Mercy. Far more sonically focused than its predecessors, Strange Mercy strikes an astounding balance between the squall of noisy rock ‘n’ roll and the delicacy of thoughtful baroque arrangement. Squeals of ’70s-era synthesizers punctuate the standout “Surgeon,” while a spacious arrangement gives way to Clark’s honed vocal prowess on the slowly evolving “Champagne Year.” These components coalesce into an album typifying of St. Vincent’s difficult-to-describe nature: Annie Clark creates significant meaning through measured juxtaposition. The contrast between the caterwaul of shrill guitars and the sighing of woodwinds, and the tension caused by Clark’s elegant voice singing unapologetically of lust and avarice, gives rise to a wholly unique musical experience.
Live, St. Vincent illustrates all of the brilliance of Annie Clark’s songwriting, and allows the singer and musician to fully articulate her songs in an inspiring and joyfully passionate way. Focused performances manage to magnify the chaos of the recordings, while a full range of emotions stretch across Clark’s plaster-white face as she sings. To witness a songwriter breathe such life into songs already bursting at the seams is truly remarkable, and should not be missed.
St. Vincent performs at the Old Rock House on October 6th at 7 p.m.; tickets are $16 in advance, and the show includes opener Cate Le Bon.