St. Vincent Brings the Weird in New Track

Annie Clark Marries Haunting Vocals with Electrifying Sound

By Aimee Terravechia

Annie Clark, the woman behind St. Vincent’s hasn’t lost her edge in her newest single, Birth in Reverse. The track is off her forthcoming self-titled album, due out in February, and is the first of her albums to be released with a major label.

In a single word, the song is weird. But that’s what makes it so good. It has a beat, a somewhat funky rhythm, and rapid key changes. The style is reminiscent of the Talking Heads, revealing that her earlier collaboration with David Byrne may have had some influence on the singer/songwriter.  The combination of the jittering electric guitar and nervous drumming lends itself to an anxious quality about the song. The sound is both jarring and electrifying, and somehow manages to be both nostalgic and forward-thinking.

In true St. Vincent style, Annie Clark’s lyrics are spectacular. There’s a delicate play at work, a balance between poetry and punch that lends itself well to the rhythm of the song. As with her other music, there are greater themes at work. The lyrics read like a puzzle to be solved, some hidden social commentary that you don’t need to get in order to appreciate the song, but will certainly make you love it even more. This music is smart.

She sings the chorus “Like a birth, in reverse, what I saw through the blinds,” in her signature melodic voice and it’s her voice that is the truly magnificent thing about this song. She’s got just enough edge to it to make the line, “What an ordinary day/take out the garbage, masturbate,” work without making it feel so necessary. There’s a maturity in her vocals that lends itself well to both the surface aesthetics of the song as well as the commentary she embeds within.  Every line, every beat, every vocalization feels necessary.

The song builds on itself, laying instruments and beats on top of one another with vocals cutting through. The rhythm is rapid, upbeat, while the lyrics and vocals express discontentment. Annie Clark expressed her intentions recently in an interview with Pitchfork by saying, “I wanted to make a party record you could play at a funeral.” The result is a song that is somehow both catchy and unsettling.

The track is full of unlikely couplings. The combination of instruments and vocals, the lyrics juxtaposed against the beat, and even the obvious influences melded with the nearly post-modern sound. None of it should work in theory, but it does when put into practice.  In fact, it’s these seeming contradictory aspects of the song that bring a sort of weird harmony to it all.

With Birth in Reverse you get a good sense of where Annie Clark is headed. Her musical and personal style have both matured since her debut album. She doesn’t look (or sound) as doe-eyed anymore, and this stronger sense of self suits her music well.

The full album is due out on February 25. You can download her single by joining St. Vincent’s mailing list.

Published December 8th, 2013

Aimee Terravechia is a writer, teacher, and grilled cheese connoisseur. She is currently working on her second novel Memes Anonymous . She has written for The Powder RoomScary Mommy, and The Cubic Lane. Her fiction has been published in Apocrypha and Abstractions. When not writing she can be found teaching college composition and creative writing, herding cats, or wrangling her toddler.