The self-titled album by Annie Clark’s awe-inspired brainchild St. Vincent stuttered into my purview early this winter. I was unprepared for singles “Birth in Reverse” and “Digital Witness,” which trickled through my newsfeed as barrel bombs of hallucinatory shrapnel. Still lingering on her 2012 collaborative album with David Byrne Love This Giant, and its 2013 follow-up the Brass Tactics EP, I was consciously incapable of wrapping my head around this music.
It didn’t make any sense. On the surface, albeit smeared and smudged oily partial fingerprints, was tenacious and visceral pop-cum-guitar music. Beyond the glass window, though, was a scene too bright to behold. My eyes needed dilating. My senses needed stopping.
When St. Vincent was officially released this weekend, I took the record with me places. At the Laundromat, I followed orbicular color trails that made fancy shapes and lucid patterns; “Prince Johnny” pivoting and percolating against a curt, triplet hi-hat pattern. While the clothes finished drying I sat cross-legged on a padlocked, basement steel door and looked at people. Crown Heights was intimidating and hypertensive on this dappled Sunday, and Annie Clark’s schizoid falsetto seemed to empathize, “No one around so I take off my clothes/ Am I the only one in the only world?” At Super Foodtown, blood-shot and deer-eyed, I navigate the color-coordinated aisles with the angelic hooks of “Huey Newton” inundating through my skull —her oddness disproportionate but nonetheless communicable.
Before any kind of cerebral connections could be made, my body seemed to comprehend what I was hearing. I found myself dancing to this album, or rather, lurching, twitching and faltering awkwardly to it. St. Vincent is an unpredictable assault, full of self-righteous missteps and glorious ambivalence. “I’m entombed in a shrine of zeroes and ones,” sings Clark, an atmosphere of binary-effected spontaneity. It’s the Wikipedia game. Pick two unrelated nouns. Start at one, end at the other—first one wins. You play through the vehicle of hyperlinks, virtual wormholes of metadata that commiserate all the things we don’t understand with the reality that we no longer need to understand anything, not really. “Feelings” lead to “flashcards” lead to “fake knife” to “real ketchup” to “cardboard cutthroats” and “cowboys of information.” Where are we now? Pigeonholed in our subconscious to a Ryan Gosling meme or another “hilarious” YouTube clip.
St. Vincent is vital for the same reasons Fear of Music and Remain in Light are paramount Talking Heads records. The album finds Annie Clark directly confronting her paranoia, reveling in the stark, unquantifiable madness that plagues our digital age minds. It’s stylistically audacious: sci-fi savvy, hip hop sensible, blues-soppy, P-Funk abiding aural collage work. And, despite Clark’s gracious media presence, the music on this album speaks entirely for itself. “People turn the TV on/ It looks just like a window,” Annie Clark lulls on “Digital Witness.” Open your eyes to listen closer. Sufficiently experiencing these songs for the first, or twelfth, time is like marijuana to your psychedelics, Molotov to your cocktail, an unsuspecting mouthful of uncooked garlic. The consequence is dynamic, maybe a little troubling, but well worth it.