St. Vincent by St. Vincent (Album of the Week)

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Artist: St. Vincent

Year: 2014

Details: 11 songs, 41 minutes

Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

Sometimes there are songs that I fall in love with at first listen. Severed Crossed Fingers is one of those songs. The song starts out with the lines:

When your calling ain’t calling back to you

I’ll be side-stage mouthing lines for you

That image just is killer. There is heartbreak in this song, but also such love. The words are wonderful (“severed crossed fingers” is a line from a Lorrie Moore short story referring to the scene of a plane crash). The music is a blending of beats and what sounds like a harpsichord. This is the song that the album ends with. Because it is so good, you want to go back to the beginning and listen to every song more closely. At least I did. I wanted to find more that I didn’t hear before. I wanted to find more to love. I did.

If you caught the season finale of Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago, you saw St. Vincent perform two of the songs from the album that Dan and listened to this week. Noteworthy in those performances is that they really are performances – she affects a robot like persona, synchronized dance moves, sweeping crazy guitar licks, and a stage set-up that is perfect for the numbers. She is pretty great. 

On Gone Mild, Dan also praises this album. He has an interesting take on the self-awareness of the album and how Annie Clark is, in a way, playful with the definition of self. There is great intelligence behind this work, and that is what makes listening to it multiple time easy.

There is an experimental tone to this album that I liked much more than I tend to. Annie Clark is just kind of  fascinating and so, so good. Over spacey tones, her lovely voice on songs like Prince Johnny and Huey Newton sound almost old fashioned. It made me think of the television show, Cold Case where they seem to have a knack for picking out a piece of music that eerily captures a previous time. I felt that eery, haunting soul in lots here.

A sweet song that she wrote for her mother, I Prefer Your Love is not schmaltzy. She mixes it up by noting that she prefers her mother’s love to that of Jesus, and “all the good in me is because of you.” St. Vincent isn’t straight forward on anything.

This is a woman whose many dimensions beg study. Where do the lyrics all arise from? What is that sound? Where did she learn to play guitar like that? I went in search of the guitar answer and found it in a video she did with another guitarist, Matt Sweeny. In it she talks about starting guitar lessons when she was twelve, and being really influenced by her uncle who is a “bonkers” jazz guitarist. She demonstrates some of the sounds that she creates, that somehow blend dischordance with beauty. She also peels through some amazing lines of finger picking guitar work.

Bravo St. Vincent! I certainly see this album as one of my top picks for the year.

 Next Up: Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me

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