Texan singer/songwriter St Vincent – the stage name of Annie Clark – has had a banner year in 2014, releasing one of the best albums of the year, getting accolades and awards by the plentiful, putting on the best live shows of the year, and judging by the reaction to her recent Black Friday Record Store Day release “Pieta/Sparrow,” the sky seems to be the limit.
To look at how St Vincent has managed to reach these heights, we must first go back to the start. Clark came from a musical background, as a teenager managing her aunt and uncle’s jazz duo, and playing the guitar from age 12. She began her career playing in multi member choir rock band The Polyphonic Spree and then joined noted composer Glenn Branca’s 100 guitar orchestra and played with Sufjan Stevens.
In 2007 Clarke released her debut album, Marry Me, which contained pounding anthems like “Your Lips are Red,” which showcased her guitar playing and almost torch song like ballads such as the title track and “What Me Worry.”
2009’s Actor continued in a similar vein, only this time Clark’s guitar playing was pushed to the forefront a lot more, with “Actor Out of Work,” “Black Rainbow” and “Marrow” containing guitar freakouts which you could dance to. It wasn’t all noise though, as “The Party” and “The Bed” were slower, almost graceful ballads.
Strange Mercy took things to their conclusion for this stage of Clark’s career, with “Cruel” being a song you could sing along to, while the title track, “Northern Lights” and “Year of the Tiger” were tension-filled slower tracks, almost ominous in the way they crept up on you. This was Clark’s most successful album to date, and her next step was an unexpected yet interesting one, as she teamed up with ex-Talking Head David Byrne for the brass-fuelled album Love This Giant.
Then this year came Clark’s masterpiece, the self-titled St. Vincent, which was preceded by the single “Birth in Reverse,” which was almost singalong-like in its simplicity. The other single, “Digital Witness,” is a kind of anthem for those desentizied by the modern, social media age. Both songs again showcase Clark’s fine guitar work. The album also contains the gorgeous ballads “I Prefer Your Love” and “Prince Johnny.” “Severed Crossed Fingers” brings the album to a fitting close with some of the best vocals she’s ever done. Clark has described the album as “a party record you could play at a funeral,” which makes sense as it describes the uneasiness and joy which seems to be at the heart of her music.
Clark’s recent live shows have gotten rave reviews as she has developed into far more of a performer than “just” a musician, as she has embraced choreography and theatrically in a way which David Bowie would be proud of. This was shown in her SNL performance which finally brought Clark’s unique style to the masses.
As the album of the year lists are made, St Vincent’s place at the top (#1 in NME, #4 in Rolling Stone, #2 in Time) is a compliment to how good the album and 2014 have been for Clarke. What she does next is anybody’s guess, but it will be exciting to watch.