Annie Clark, more widely known by her pop-rock moniker St. Vincent, is taking contemporary popular culture by storm with a wonderfully iconic ascent. St. Vincent formed in 2006 and for the subsequent eight years, Clark has been pioneering new perspectives to oft played genres and mixing them together to churn out one fantastical album after the other with each more ambitious than the last.
Annie Clark has played with a wide array of established musicians such as Sufjan Stevens, and Bon Iver, taking with her knowledge of multi-instrumental skill-sets. On her albums as St. Vincent, she plays every instrument to powerful effect. In 2012, she collaborated with David Byrne of Talking Heads to form the musical outfit David Byrne & St. Vincent. Together, they released the album Love This Giant, followed by high-profile musical appearances on Late Show With David Letterman, and The Colbert Report. Her partnership with Byrne – whose musical skills were as groundbreaking and ahead of his time in the 1980s as St. Vincent’s is today – highlights how Annie Clark’s iconic ascent has yet to reach its peak.
Her newest release, the self titled St. Vincent, is rife with infectious “krautrock” drum loops, innovative guitar work, and beautifully haunted crooning, making her latest ambition seem altogether a reinvention of her earlier sounds. Clark’s art continues to pull no punches, and her enigmatic persona leaves more cards on the table than the average listener can handle. Her hit single off the new album, Digital Witness, touches on themes of internet use, introspection, and superficiality. She interrogates the listener, who’s most likely dancing without a second thought: What’s the point in even sleeping? If I can’t show, if you can’t see me? Critics have compared St. Vincent to the likes of David Bowie during his heyday in the 1970s, and with good reason. Like Bowie, Clark has proved a thoughtful observer of our times, while remaining cautious from steering into becoming disingenuous.
On April 5, St. Vincent took Chicago by storm, doing a send-up of Nirvana’s Lithium. The crowd went crazy for it, and her performance not only stayed true to the grunge roots of the 1990s jam, it gave it a new spin and brought the house down. Her rendition of the song comes on the heels of the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s tragic passing. For Cobain, whose love for underdog pianist and illustrator Daniel Johnston prompted him to cover his lo-fi songs, and wear merchandise of Johnston’s in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s; Clark’s cover of Lithium would have no doubt made him eternally proud.
In an age where being an icon means you have to shock your audiences with sexualized antics, make the news for heavy drug use and legal debauchery, or avant-garde outfits sported by Lady Gaga that make 19th century macabre look tame, it’s a monumentally impressive feat that Annie Clark has transformed herself into St. Vincent and garnered near-universal critical acclaim. However, she remains unpretentious and gracious of her fame. Though her relentless hard work shines through every song she makes, she never lets fame get to her head and act out. But with her level of amazing skill, who could blame her if she did? Annie Clark has shown the world what she’s made of, and her iconic ascent isn’t going downhill any time soon (nor should it).
Opinion by Tyler Collins