“I want all of your mind,” Annie Clark insists on her fourth solo LP as St. Vincent — but there’s a sense, as with all of Clark’s work, that we’re only getting a carefully selected slice of hers. That deliberateness is part of what makes Clark one of the more compelling songwriters working right now, and the tension between what Clark discloses and what she holds back animates St. Vincent, makes it electric.
Writing on The Talkhouse recently, Clark described Arcade Fire’s Reflektor as “sleaze, anxiety, and pathos that you can dance to,” and it’s hard to not read some self-reflection into those words now: St. Vincent is a singular, skittering, sometimes shrill, oft-surprising collection of rock songs performed confidently and with an ear toward movement. There’s anger and sex and devastation here, and rhythms that demand a physical response — a visceral reaction in an era ruled by virtual ones.
Clark is justifiably tense about modern times (about the possibility that existence has become too performative, that we’re mediating all of our experiences via one screen or another) and in “Digital Witness,” she sings dryly about those collective approximations of reality: “People turn the TV on/ It looks just like a window,” she shrugs before adding a winking (and flatly spoken) “Yeah.” Meanwhile, in “Huey Newton,” her voice creeping into falsetto, she eviscerates “the shrine of zeroes and ones” over a guitar riff so throbbing and chunky it feels like it must have been recorded in a garage. Clark’s shredding is always a fine counterpoint to the delicacy of her vocals, and that juxtaposition is particularly fiery here, where both her playing and her singing are the best they’ve ever been. As such, St. Vincent is an especially vivid encapsulation of our particular time and place: of all the things we share, and all the things we can’t.