#24 on the 2009 Musical Advent Calendar
Actor by St. Vincent
That’s how I describe Annie Clark, otherwise known as St. Vincent, to my friends as I drag them out to one of her shows. With her gaunt frame, bug eyes and wild hair, it’s much easier to concentrate on her stage presence and visual appeal than to try and define her music.
She sounds like a blend of Tori Amos, Andrew Bird and Nine Inch Nails — that’s the best I can do. Clear as mud. Actor, from which the song “Actor Out of Work,” shown above, is from, is St. Vincent’s 2nd album. It does get a bit more varied than her debut, Marry Me (which, incidentally, is named after a line uttered by Maybe Fünke from Arrested Development. And if that’s not enough of a reason to start listening to a record, I don’t know what is). The newer album is a step forward for the 25-year old Clark; a mishmash of strings, distorted vocals and ghostly, unknowable sounds, that somehow combine into a cohesive record. It’s good fun, but it doesn’t give you any hint of why you should really listen to St. Vincent. For that, you’ll have to leave the headphones behind and find her at your nearest ~700-person performance space.
I had seen Annie on stage before she recorded anything as St. Vincent. She was part of Sufjan Steven’s band, as well as the cult-like 26-person Polyphonic Spree, but it’s easy to get loss amidst those large ensembles. When I did see finally see her perform as St. Vincent, opening for another favorite of mine — John Vanderslice — she was completely unknown to me. But from the moment she came on stage and slammed her foot down on the stomp board at her feet, I was in awe, as was the rest of the crowd. No one had heard of her before, but everyone stopped whatever conversation they were having and stared, slack-jawed, at the performing wonder on stage.
Through a series of recorded-on-the-fly loops, foot stomping, hand clapping, and guitar playing, St. Vincent creates a wall of sound on top of which she sings her haunting lyrics. Andrew Bird, who you’ll see on the countdown shortly, does the same recorded-loop performance, but to a completely different end. The more fully-produced versions of St. Vincent’s songs found on her albums aren’t nearly as interesting as her live performance of them. I urge you to go to her website, see when she’ll be coming through town next, and run out and buy a ticket this instant. And then start preparing yourself. Because after this experience, your musical world will be turned upside down.
25. Elvis Perkins in Dearland by Elvis Perkins in Dearland
26. XX by the XX
27. Grrr… by Bishop Allen
28. Keep It Hid by Dan Auerbach
29. It’s Blitz! by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
30. Beware by Bonnie “Prince” Billie
31. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear