As my tweets and snapchats will attest, I went to a house/techno show Friday night I was not made for. Nervously pacing past girls with fox tails, guys rocking yarmulkes, a few dreadlocked "tweakers" doing the splits I felt out of my element. I was lightly sweating, my ears were ringing, and my heart hurt from the colossal bass. All I had to do was yell "get off of my lawn!" and the transformation into a crotchety old butterfly would've been complete. That is not to say I couldn't comprehend or make sense out of what was going on. I love electronic music; it's a key staple of my daily music diet. However my consumption is generally done in seclusion. Rather than dance, I nod along and gradually drift off into whatever world the song conjures. Flailing wildly tends to stymie that process.
On Annie Clark's 4th studio LP as St. Vincent she sounds like a fish out of water, gasping for air in an alien desert. Clark says her previous St. Vincent LP Strange Mercy was all about "internal struggle" though St. Vincent does more than its fair-share of sparing. Similar to Arcade Fire's Reflektor, much of it concerns moving out of the digital-era, like the Kraftwerkian burbler "Rattlesnake" which Clark wrote after a commune with nature went awry. Second single "Digital Witness" taunts "this is no time for confessing," to remind us our online "voices" aren't as powerful as we pretend they are.
However, not everything revolves around 1's and 0'. There in the melodious slow roll of "Prince Johnny" is Annie Clark praying to "all to make me a real girl." Describing the effort, Clark commented: ""Prince Johnny" is about a mixture of compassion and hopelessness that you feel for a friend who’s being very self-destructive, but you also know that you can’t save them, but you can’t cast any judgment because you’re equally self-destructive." Hidden amongst the choral vocals and steady drum-machine ticks, there's the age-old crisis of figuring out how to love yourself before you can love anyone else. "I Prefer Your Love" with its wine-drunk drumbeat is a string-heavy paean to Clark's mother who was temporarily ill last year. When we're younger, we often idolize our parents. We'd like to believe they're perfect. If anyone is immune to death's sting it's them. As our eyes grow more adult, we see that isn't the case. Closing ballad "Severed Crossed Fingers" is Clark's most honest endeavor. She worries about being "humiliated by age, terrified of youth" as she alights on a bar-stool. The greatest fear of growing old isn't necessarily wrinkling, it's the concern you haven't left your mark. Instead of doing, you cross your fingers; hoping everything works out.Of course when you possess the unmistakable talent Clark does, you don’t have to wish much. If a museum for "rock" guitar-players opened up, she'd be the first of her 2007 class to be inducted. Having spent years opening for the likes of: Television, Arcade Fire, Andrew Bird, and Xiu Xiu; St. Vincent's style is an overlap of that diverse crowd. She claims Television's jazz-inspired play, Bird and AF's baroque dramatics, and Xiu Xiu's loose-cannon crunch. "Birth in Reverse" churns constantly without ever growing staid. In the chorus break, St. Vincent sends riffs flying off at geometrically impossible angles. "Regret" is impeccable for entirely antithetical reasons. Here she finds a crackling part, riding it until it collapses. Her playing can also be ferocious while keeping focused. "Huey Newton" comfortably rests on a bed of twinkling electronics before being awoken by a marauding guitar. Early in the browsing Wikipedia at 3AM entry, she breathlessly coos "toothless, but got a big bark," a threat you don't take into proper consideration until that spine-shaking moment.
In fact, St. Vincent is an ever-flowing stream of being "shook." "Psychopath" captures a scene many lovers play through when they realize how much they depend on one another. "Keep me in your soft sights, when all of the rest have moved on," St. Vincent begs from under a blanket of soaring strings and acoustic shuffling. No matter how in love they are, few can avoid freaking out upon the revelation. St. Vincent has a screwdriver for a guitar to keep her company, but others aren't so lucky. Some like the dead-eyed zombies of "Digital Witness" only have humming TVs to help out. Others see their tears drowned out by Galaga walls of noise. And there are those "trapped" at an event they'd love to leave. Physical or digital, the struggle is the same.