A couple weeks ago, I shared an airplane with St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark). I was on my way to San Francisco, and as I discovered a day or so before I left, my long weekend trip coincided with Noise Pop. I scored tickets to see Les Savy Fav, but had plans that kept me from other shows. As I hurried onto my American Airlines afternoon flight from New York City to San Francisco, I noticed an all too familiar looking woman with fair skin, dark brown curly hair and big, bright eyes in first class. She looked up at me as I passed, quite possibly staring at her more than I meant to. I might be a woman who’s into guys, but I have no qualms admitting that I find Miss Clark downright gorgeous. Later, I casually moved to stand near her at baggage claim to confirm who she was, and there was no mistaking the petite woman with her guitar and amps. I thought about saying hello, but she seemed quite content wearing her headphones, waiting for her luggage, so I opted not to disturb her.
I discovered her rather coincidentally. She was touring with John Vanderslice in 2007, and devoted Vanderslice fan that I am, I offered to review her show so I could see Vanderslice for free, too. I ended up being rather impressed by St. Vincent, and reviewed her debut, Marry Me, for SOMA magazine. I liked the album almost too easily, and my love of it grew with each listen. But not only that, it slowly came to feel like part of me. There are far too few smart albums put out by modern female singer-songwriters, and Marry Me felt like the first one in quite awhile that I had not only connected to emotionally but stylistically, as well. (Neko Case being the only other name that jumps to mind.) There’s something about her persona, this sweet and salty attitude, like a siren or a feral kitten or a librarian with an S&M fetish, and it extends to her sound, light, airy melodies contrasted with psychedelic guitar freak-outs and eccentric percussion and electronic components. I listen to her and can’t help but think of Kate Bush meets Jimi Hendrix meets Billie Holiday. And so, upon hearing she has a new single – “The Strangers” – I was more than a little giddy.
St. Vincent: “The Strangers” (download)
“The Strangers” comes from her second album, Actor, which will be released by 4AD on May 5th, and if it’s any indication of where the new album is headed, she’s picked up right where she left off with Marry Me. A choral of “oohs” and “aahs” fills the air and Clark comes in fighting, “Lover, I don’t play to win / for the thrill until I’m spent / paint the black hole blacker.” The last line becomes the theme of “The Strangers,” repeated over and over, occasionally interrupted by a quick barbs like, “Desperate don’t look good on you / neither does your virtue.” She purrs over clicks, ticks, and a chugging rhythm, intersected with strange electronic sounds or a crunchy guitar line now and then, her voice occasionally echoed for a word or two. It’s all sweetness, musically, until just after the two-and-a-half minute mark when the crunchy guitar briefly fights with jingling bells and the chorus of voices. But after the head-nodding climax, Clark slips back into sweetness, finishing her oh so effective wooing process. By the time the song ends with the same “oohs” and “aahs,” she’s got you. Then again, chances are she had you from the very beginning.
Note: If you pre-order Actor from Beggars Group, you get a free limited edition 7″.