I don’t know who first used the modifier “angular” to describe a guitar style, but it’s been the most over used adjective for post punk guitar for at least 30 years now. Perhaps it means the sharp edges that you get from the syncopated and dissonant chord changes or maybe even the “stiff, awkward, and ungainly” feel the music gives you. Either way, the message that “angular” communicates is “inhuman” and “inhospitable.” From Marry Me to Actor to Strange Mercy and now St. Vincent, Annie Clark’s music has toed this line between human and inhuman, between hospitable and inhospitable, but inevitably has sided with the human. This has always been her great accomplishment as a songwriter. Her hair has gotten whiter, her clothing more plastic and her guitar playing more…angular, but she’s never lost touch with that humanity and with St. Vincent, Annie Clark is at her peak as a songwriter, guitarist and artist.
St. Vincent opens up with “Rattlesnake,” a story of being naked in the wilderness when confronted by a rattlesnake. Whether or not the snake was there to offer her an apple is unknown because her immediate reaction is to run away. If this is a creationist metaphor then it’s clear that the message is one of fear. Clark almost exclusively writes about the mundane and St. Vincent is no different. So this brush with death is an epiphanic moment, a break from the mundane that acts as a metaphorical birth.
“Birth in Reverse” opens with the lines, “Oh what and ordinary day/ take out the garbage, masturbate/ I’m still holding for the laugh,” and brings us back to the mundane. But instead of that epiphany she has in “Rattlesnake” she is now a static observer, waiting for the laugh to come and instead of a metaphorical birth that is caused by breaking through the mundane, we have the birth in reverse.
St. Vincent excels at painting these little vignettes of ordinary life but imbuing them with the uncanny and the surreal through her otherworldly guitar playing and orchestration. From “Prince Johnny” to “Huey Newton” to “Digital Witness,” Clark is on point with her critiques of modern society and, oh yeah, these are some killer songs.
At this point it’s self evident that Annie Clark doesn’t make bad music…ever. St. Vincent may very well be the best album she’s released to date, but then again so is Strange Mercy, Actor, and Marry Me. We’ve reached a point now where St. Vincent is as relevant as any musician in music. She’s demonstrated that she can continually toe that line between the ordinary and the uncanny and does it her own way: angularly.