The Evolution of St. Vincent in Five Songs

The New Goddess of Reinvention receives the SMACK Media Treatment.

The Evolution of St. Vincent in Five Songs

By

Jared Marshall & Aaron Chan

5/19/2021 1:00 PM

Annie Clark is not from this planet. Holding the position as this generation’s premier rock star, settling with any one epithet would be reductive to her complexity as an artist.

Here’s what I do know: every half decade or so an artist comes along that survives on the predication that great legacies are built off of never… ever doing the same thing twice. St. Vincent takes this to an almost hyperbolic level, truly cannibalizing the last phase with her current era. Influenced by everything from French New Wave to the Suburban wasteland of Tulsa, Oklahoma where she’s from, she has successfully homogenized a blend of synthpop, glam, experimental, classical, new arena, and funk into her own unique sound— always tied together by the proficiency of her guitar playing and her famously versatile vocal register. 

St. Vincent not only forces us to reconsider the boundaries of pop music, the studio, and the female voice, her godly gift to reinvention carries over to her captivating live performances, defining fashion decisions, and interpretive choreography that becomes inseparable from her music. She truly figured out the era of multimedia.

Six albums deep, we still have not received any signal that the evolution of Annie Clark is anywhere near a plateau point. So to celebrate the release of Daddy’s Home, we have compiled the five tracks that define the career of St. Vincent, along with a small breakdown of each era. So take out the garbage, masturbate, and get Daddy’s Home in no particular order.


 “The Strangers”

Album: Actor

Years: 2008-2010

Influences: Avante-Pop, Roxy Music, Hunky Dory, vacations to Japan, Technicolor, Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), music halls, the feminist book store from Portlandia

Persona: “The Macabre Disney Princess”

Defining TV Performance of the Era: N/A

Opening St. Vincent’s first great work, the meticulous Actor, “The Strangers'' masquerades as a somber reflection on a disintegrating relationship, a scenario Clark would allude to throughout her later work. Underscored by baroque pop and acoustic finger picking, she was influenced by the scores of old Disney films, using various scenes as the inspirational basis. The gentle tone of “The Strangers'' emanates with ethereal beauty, but it veils a darkness made of black holes, porno mags, and bodily injury. This violent darkness comes to the forefront with a crunchy, distorted guitar solo at the song’s climax before it finally lulls itself back to sleep in the final verse. This aggressive sonic left turn met with the contrasting imagery of wedding days and black eyes make “The Strangers” a pronounced example of one of Clark’s core musical philosophies: putting something beautiful next to something ugly.

“Surgeon”


Album: Strange Mercy

Years: 2010-2012

Influences: pre-ambient Eno, isolated living, The Chinese Lunar Calendar, Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, Todd Hayne’s films with Julianne Moore, Lorrie moore’s short stories

Persona: “The Pill-Addled Housewife”

Defining TV Performance of the Era:

If Strange Mercy is where Clark showed how far she could push her own envelope, then “Surgeon” is a lodestar. Strange Mercy represented a serious leap forward from the sparser, less futuristic Actor in not only arrangement, but vocal with Clark grasping hold of her elastic soprano that she would become known for. It was also her coming out party as a lyricist; “Surgeon” considers the album’s themes of isolation, big pharma, and the hostile gears of the patriarchy. Using an angular drum loop, we watch a housewife on the brink of madness due to pill popping and severe depression, screaming for help with a quote from Marilyn Monroe’s diary. Clark uses a wall of guitars to elevate the mayhem, and a rush of synths to allow the narrator to succumb to their declining mental health by the final movement of the song.


“Digital Witness”

Album: St. Vincent

Years: 2013-2015

Influences: Station to Station, Stop Making Sense, LCD Soundsystem, internet surfing, Apple Garage Band, custom guitar patches, masturbation

Persona: “The Alien Cult Leader”

Defining TV Performance of the Era:

The seminal St. Vincent track. Playing off her exploration of brass on Love This Giant, Clark crafts an anthemic banger about how the internet turns us into monsters. It’s the sonic and lyrical representation of an internet overlord broadcasting 20 guitars playing the same solo on a Black hitachi. But this takes the backseat to the mainshow transformation: St. Vincent is where Clark becomes a bona fide rockstar. Verging on rock opera theatrics uploaded for the new millenium, her self-titled record launched her to late night talk shows, celebrity girlfriends, every major US festival, a viral performance of “Lithium” with the surviving members of Nirvana, SNL, HBO’s Girls, Portlandia, The Grammys, a remix from Rodney “Darkchild” Jenkins… she may have already earned the respect from the blogosphere, David Byrne, and the snobs, but now the merits of her work were being debated against her stiffness as a performer and action figures are being developed.


“Hang On Me”

Album: MASSEDUCATION

Years: 2016-2019

Influences: designer drugs, e-commerce, pleather, Prince, Icona Pop, Robyn, red lipstick, Duran Duran, Bowie in the 80’s, Cara Delevingne

Persona: “The Misunderstood Dominatrix”

Defining TV Performance of the Era:

Pairing with pop producer extraordinaire Jack Antonoff, Annie would transition yet again, this time from rockstar to popstar on MASSEDUCTION. This is the Coachella record, without a shred of artistic compromise. “Hang On Me” may be one the record’s quieter moments, but this does not stop it from being a total encapsulation of St. Vincent’s S&M inspired, leather clad persona. Pop structure propels the track forward with candidacy for the best pre-chorus of recent memory. It’s also a heart wrenching breakup track, a drunken Clark begging her former lover not to hang up the phone. But “Hang On Me” is not merely a ballad on an album intended for flashy dancefloors, it is a reminder that behind MASSEDUCATION’s wall of synths, distorted guitars, and expensive lip gloss, Annie Clark still reigns as one of the smartest, most honest, and most unique songwriters of her generation.

“Down and Out Downtown”

Album: Daddy’s Home

Years: 2021-

Influences: Robert Altman films, yacht rock, fake cocaine, wigs, Fender Telecasters, polyester, orange wool carpets

Persona: “Paul Thomas Annie-Son.”

Defining TV Performance of the Era:

Digging the crates for anything and all pre-disco, Clark wanted to make a record that exuded sleazy 70’s New York. Daddy’s Home is St. Vincent’s most vulnerable record. Musing on lost friends, her relationship with her father, and the city that she loves, Clark uses “Down and Out Downtown” as an ode to a pre-gentrified New York under the lens of 70’s soul. It’s not difficult to picture her sauntering down the morning train in a fur coat and blonde wig. For an artist who’s always had an eye for the future, it is strange to see St. Vincent so rapt with nostalgia, though deeper examination proves that the enveloping of great art past is crucial to her existence. Being that she has built her career around subversion, Daddy’s Home is proof that St. Vincent can still be unpredictable, while reaching a new audience by trying something completely different than she has done before.