Feb 042012

I tend to do most of my music listening while driving to and from work. This nice half hour drive gives me a chance to get through most of an album or a collection of singles. Today, I was listening to a mix of recent music that Mr. Royale had compiled for me, and it included a song from St. Vincent‘s most recent album, Strange Mercy. The song is “Surgeon” and features David Cronenberg/JG Ballard-like lyrics, some Yes-style guitar work, and a grand Prince finale. Despite this odd assortment of styles, I sort of like this song. On my second listen this evening, it dawned on me: Annie Clark is today’s Kate Bush. Both reveal a great deal of emotionality through somewhat breathy singing, and their music is lushly produced.

So tonight, I looked up a video for the song:

Now I’m confused. First I had to suspend the image of doe-eyed, guitar-strumming folk singer whom I saw open for Stephen Malkmus a few years ago. Then came her next album, Actor, which included a couple of good songs but was ultimately too complicated for me to really embrace. And now in this video, young Annie appears to be getting in touch with her inner and outer PJ Harvey.

I don’t have a firm grasp on St. Vincent. Rewind even further and there she is in the identical choir robe worn by all the members of The Polyphonic Spree. Is she now making up for lost (wardrobe and makeup) time by adopting a series of Bowie-like personae? What’s your take on St. Vincent?


  11 Responses to “Little Orphan Annie”

  1. I have to say that I liked this song more before I saw the video. I didn’t need to be assured that the singer is the guitarist, especially considering that her fingers don’t match the sounds half the time.

    What is the point of rock videos in the age of YouTube? Do people really still care?

  2. 2000 Man

    I never heard them before, and for the most part I think I’d like them more if they were less keyboardy-synthy and more guitary. I’d really like to hear a song where she really cuts loose on that guitar, with another guitar holding things together. She certainly has a unique sound and I think I might investigate them further.

  3. cliff sovinsanity

    Having only seen this video, I can easily see why she is in the 4AD camp. That’s usually a good thing. I must confess that I would have been less enthused by hearing the song on the radio rather seeing the video. Unlike Scott, I enjoyed the song a lot more after seeing her fretwork. Yes, I’m easily amused by female guitar players. So, I’m definitely intrigued and looking forward to hearing more from Annnie. Thanks for sharing LMKR

  4. I saw her in Austin at the Fun Fest we played and she was great. I have her latest two albums and thing she’s fab.

    Here she is shredding on Big Black’s “Kerosene”:


  5. The images were a real turn-off at the start. I had already been turned off by this woman’s pose on album covers. She seems to be pouring on the freak thing for no purpose. Of course, I had not heard a lick of her music until now.

    I don’t mind this song, and I appreciate the funny Yes-style guitar breaks. I wish somebody would give the drummer a B12 shot. The synth break in the middle is pointless, or more pointless than the rest of this mildly pointless but effectively atmospheric song.

    Considering how much I dreaded hearing this, I can now say I wouldn’t close my ears to hearing a second song by this band.

  6. jeangray

    Am I the only one disheartened by someone doing most of their music appreciation in the car?

  7. ladymisskirroyale

    Unfortunately, it’s my fact of life. My two prime music appreciation times are 1. car driving and 2. on tinny Sony kitchen stereo when cooking dinner. We try to compensate by going to hear the bands we love play live (and then they ALWAYS sound better than the car or kitchen!).

  8. ladymisskirroyale

    I find St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, pretty mesmerizing but I can’t decide if I really like her music or not. I appreciate it but sometimes the complex song structures and layered additions drive me bonkers (and I love complex, arty music). I like her voice and am impressed by her talent, especially use of metaphor in her lyrics. But there is something that I haven’t quite got a good handle on that I don’t really care for. Despite reviewers that describe her vocal style as more cerebral than emotional, there is something Kate Bush-ish about her (which I probably why I am having a hard time embracing her).

    Here’s a song from her last album, Actor, that I like a lot. That she would make an appearance on “Portlandia” bumps her more solidly into the plus column for me.


  9. I just watched Portlandia for the first time. I was highly skeptical, since I consider Fred Armisen only mildly funny at best, but the premise of the show’s setting and themes always sounds good. The episode I watched had a very RTH-relevant skit on hipster parents arguing over the contents of a record bin in a preschool (it started with a parent objecting to the inclusion of a Mike + the Mechanics album). The premise and references were excellent, but I found the execution a bit lacking. Armisen and Brownstein just don’t strike me as inherently funny performers, but again, the concept was so good that I’ll give the show another chance.

  10. I’m a big fan of St. Vincent, but I think her records are getting progressively worse. While the first record, “Marry Me” had some of that lush synth padding underneath, it was filled out with recognizable guitar, pianos, drums and strings. There was also lots of space for parts to float in and out. Her touring band was not heavily keyboard driven and included in addition to bass and drums, a couple of guys who played sax, violin and the occasional guitar. This link shows them doing one of the best songs from the first album:


    It brings to mind a song from my favorite Krautrock crew:


    Her second album became more consistently dense, with less room for elements of the arrangements to breathe. She was still using the same live line up, and I thought the songs were better live than on the released versions.

    The newest album goes further down the smeary synthesizer sound road. She also employed a band that emphasizes the electronics to the near total exclusion of any clean instrumental attack.

    I still think there’s something good going on there, I’m just concerned that it’s becoming more and more obscured by the misguided production/arrangement approach.

  11. ladymisskirroyale

    Thanks for posting that song from the first album, geo.

    I agree – she’s someone to watch but I hope, like you, that she can find a balance in the production of her music.

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