Dreamboat Annie: The Evolution of St. Vincent
Eerie, supernatural, fallen-saintly. Chart the journey of the chameleon-like artist whose avant-garde ways and constant reinvention have seen her duet with everyone from David Byrne to Dua Lipa.
Annie Clark aka St Vincent (Photo: Kevin Mazur)
Dreamboat Annie is the debut album of American rock band Heart, which Clark as a youth would surely have had on vinyl repeat upon its 1975 release. We tried blending the title track with ‘Daddy’s Home’ to see what it conjures. Instruments like the timpani and sitar make a reappearance, showing Clark only ever works on a scale-up basis of constant self-reference, nostalgia and worldliness that is never pastiche and always somehow brand new.
Marry Me (2007)
Nothing that had come before really sounded like this indie-folk singer and master guitar-shredder when she arrived on the indie scene with a big proposal, the debut album Marry Me. Annie Clark entered the sphere solo after touring for ages as a member of Sufjan Stevens’ band, but cut her teeth in metal, rock and gospel outfits growing up in Dallas, Texas. Try sparking a moodagent from ‘Now, Now’ which may or may not have been the St. Vincent’s MySpace page track that prompted yours truly to attend a tiny first tour St. Vincent concert in Manchester, England and totally fall in love with the saintly enigma. Also, fans of hectic, brilliant Ron Howard sitcom Arrested Development may know the title track of this strong and storied debut is a reference to a hilarious obsession of Michael Cera’s character with his blood cousin, Maeby. Maeby would shout ‘Marry me’ at people to get out of trouble.
Two years would come to be the standard working space between records for Clark, and this beauty almost sounds like a Disney soundtrack with its theatrical arrangements: flute, brass, timpani and lots of reverb vocals. St. Vincent’s cheeky poetry and guitar carries the weight of the drama. Dynamic and attention-grabbing, Clark is always acting or paying tribute to her heroes: real or invented. St. Vincent is in fact a reference to Nick Cave’s song ‘There She Goes, My Beautiful World.’ The artwork for this record is startlingly strange and theatrical, lighting the artist’s almost cartoonishly beautiful features brightly, in a way that will come to be quintessentially Clark. Spark a moodagent from ‘Just the Same But Brand New.’
Strange Mercy (2011)
Opener ‘Chloe in the Afternoon’ sounds like a blend of Björk and Radiohead in a way that’s also just pure Clark. It’s also named after an Eric Rohmer film. Perhaps her most imperfect album, what follows is actually a rather hectic listen, with sentient and dreamy passages enough to bring it to a great listening equilibrium. Clark hints at the incarceration which themizes her 2021 Daddy’s Home album on this record’s title track in gutsy anti-estab style: “If I ever meet the dirty policeman who roughed you up, no I don’t know what…”
Love This Giant (2012)
Body modification was the look of this David Byrne collab project, where the two poked fun at their usually slick and chiselled looks by CGI-ing superhero-ish chin and cheekbone extensions into their faces. Horns blow and the angular two create a record that sounds like early Talking Heads and future St. Vincent. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of warmth and heart: ‘Lazarus’ recalls Caroline Polachek.
St. Vincent (2015)
A sprawling 16-tracker. Clark goes silver-grey as an homage to her Talking Heads hero of 2021, which along with her high neck black priestly cape also results in an Edward Scissorhands feel. Perhaps the only time SV actually makes a religious reference? ‘Rattlesnake’ and ‘Digital Witness’ jump straight back into the familiar jaunty basslines of her earlier work, with more funk this time round. Weirdly, these tracks sound a bit like Prince meets ‘Play’ by JLo. You could try creating a moodagent of all three… After listening to the speedy ‘Birth in Reverse’ which almost has a 2006 British indie guitar band vibe.
Perhaps none of us had realized the tiny one-syllable difference between ‘education’ and ‘seduction’ till this little slice of genius came along. Clark’s years long tour diaries story disaster, desperation and doom in a way that’s still sunny and deeply enjoyable to listen to: perhaps a reference the ever-dramatic rise of US drugs crisis is most poignant on ‘Pills,’ which could also be heard as a rockstar paean to the dumbing effect of meds during a life of plane-stage-bed-road. This was released just one year after her hero Prince passed away after a devastating opioid addiction. She closes with a lyric sung against mournful sax: “Everyone you love will all go away, hey, hey…”. This album features Doveman on piano, Kamasi Washington on saxophone, Jenny Lewis on guest vocals and marks her first, enduring working relationship with producer Jack Antonoff. Clark wore latex only touring this and looked like one of the girls in the ‘Addicted to Love’ video by Robert Palmer. Except she was actually playing.
A stripped-down and very unexpected thing from Clark, perhaps another ode to the Purple One and his parting Piano and Microphone tour of 2016. ‘Masseduction’ gets the lowkey but high feeling treatment, reminding us of just how strong a vocalist Clark is amongst all the usual fanfare of her productions.
Daddy's Home (2021)
Who knew those Dallas roots would come to partly inspire the visual identity of this record: bouffant bleached wig, heavy eye makeup, a woman perched ambiguously in the doorway of a glamorous home that could be hers and could not. Part ode to 70s rock and roll, part paean to the mystique of motherless womanhood, completely and utterly Annie Clark at her most talkative and brilliant. She muses over copulating without the intention of conception – a fling back to her debut Marry Me.