Skilled social critic and excellent rock musician, Annie Clark – a.k.a. St. Vincent – is hitting the shelves with a new album later this month (Feb. 25). So, why should you know about her? St. Vincent’s music intrigues and, more importantly, rocks a unique, elegantly dystopian perspective. Disaffection threads itself throughout her last album, Strange Mercy (2011), especially on songs like “Cheerleader” and “Year of the Tiger.” The upcoming eponymous record looks like it will only raise the stakes. With three songs already released from the album, “Birth in Reverse”, “Digital Witness”, and “Prince Johnny”, Annie Clark’s statement, “I wanted to make a party record you could play at a funeral“, makes a shocking amount of sense.
“Birth in Reverse” hits all the classic rock grooves while sporting some of the quirk we’ve come to expect from Ms. Clark – she confronts us in the opening lyric, “Oh, what an ordinary day / Take out the garbage, masturbate.” This literally down-and-dirty vibe can’t always be pulled off, but there’s something so blase and mundane about it that its realness stands out more than anything else. She knows that you know what she’s talking about. But what in hell is a birth in reverse? Regular, daily life is going on as usual (see above), but really beneath that St. Vincent sees something more backwards happening in America. Both the sinister and silly make this a splendid dance track that honestly makes you wish you had her massive mop of bleached-white hair to thrash.
“Digital Witness” details for us exactly what St. Vincent takes to be a deep shift in human interaction and cultural engagement. “People turn the TV on / It looks just like a window… Yah.” Basically, she says what we millenials all know: if it’s not on TV, Facebook, Instagram, what have you, it might as well not have happened. And more than that, we’ve lost our “off” button – “What’s the point of even sleeping / If I can’t show it / You can’t see me… So I stopped sleeping / Yeah, I stopped sleeping.” This lyric stuck with me, mostly because it reminded me that I don’t know the last time I literally turned off my laptop. Which also makes me feel like I haven’t slept properly since 1998. Besides these cutting social observations, “Digital Witness” has the roaring brass section that we got familiar with in St Vincent’s recent collaboration with David Byrne, Love This Giant - except, instead of feeling gimmicky, here those horns do work.
Finally, today St. Vincent released the sumptuous, choir-backed “Prince Johnny.” There’s something perfectly measured about this track, whose jaded narrative of modern, troubled “royalty” has tinges of both Lorde and Lana Del Rey. But neither of these other artists have the poetic rock chops unique to Clark in today’s soundscape. ”Remember the time we went and snorted / a piece of the Berlin Wall that you’d extorted.” Caustically majestic, “Prince” is the most sophisticated in terms of lyrics and tone – that groovy yet terribly dark riff in the chorus is seriously awesome.
If these tracks and the stunning Strange Mercy are anything to go on, St. Vincent is going to be spectacular.
“Birth in Reverse”