Strangely, I like most everything about Annie Clark except for all the things that attracts the audience that might not be there if she were less, let’s say, colourful. Apart from the observations, the collision of familiar and strange landscapes, the inner and outer investigations of her songs, it’s how she brilliantly combines Rock ‘n’ Roll with clever contemporary sonic Indie awareness – you know the kind of thing that the NME used to worship and that Pitchfork exists for when they’re not tearing some innocent soul apart.
I’ve seen her live three times (once with David Byrne), I buy vinyl versions of her albums and I would call myself a fan. But her guitar playing sounds somewhat heavy handed and rather over-processed to me, although it’s in an admirable exploratory attempt for different textures and originality. But I suppose it’s all just ‘metal irony’. Her videos seem rather like the videos that the Teletubbies might have made if they had a band and her live persona seems rather stranded between disconnection and gratitude. Her keyboard player seemed to know what a hip job she had lucked upon.
I suppose it’s necessary to invent a personality to stand out, to be noticed, something for the people that have a million artists to choose from so they have reason to choose her, because her other skills (the ones I like) simply wouldn’t be enough to attract such attention. Her ambiguous sexuality, dating Cara Delevingne, the kudos of working with David Byrne and the rather unique choreographed live show they did together, her shimmies back and forth on stage like a Sci-fi doll – these things are all a distraction. She’s independently talented, that’s why Byrne called her but then again so was he but he had to sell himself as an eccentric intellectual weirdo – plus he had that extra asset that the masses seem to crave – groove, whereas Clarke has less accessible quirky rhythms, ironic drum machines and cartoon synthesizers.
Clark’s history as a roadie with Tuck and Patti (I have a couple of Tuck and Patti albums, too) sounds like a story, especially if you have actually heard Tuck and Patti and I would imagine that most of her fans haven’t. Growing with jazzy Uncle Tuck as a guitar mentor sounds intriguing to me because I don’t hear it in her playing. Then there’s her time in The Polyphonic Spree – I saw them at The Troubadour in LA when they first started in their white flowing robes (I don’t know if she was in the band at that time), also her touring with Sufjan Stevens and others, I presume as a guitarist and probably a backing singer are of interest. Of course, however interesting this all is, it’s just the past and she is not her résumé. It’s the now, the present that is the important thing, where she goes with her career. But I can’t even stand the word ‘career’ in relation to making music. It’s not what I set out to do, have a career in music as if I might equally have chosen a career in the army. Music finds you, you love it, it loves you back, you do your best, hopefully you have something to offer, you have success or you don’t, it doesn’t matter and it probably/hopefully doesn’t matter to her. Ambition can be an uncomfortable bedfellow when it comes to art and success, unexpected success especially can lead you down a dangerous road.
In Annie Clark I see a smart lyricist with an interesting approach to songwriting – the stories she tells, how she weaves her melodies. I like her voice a lot, I like how her albums sound and as a guitar player, it’s her real skills, those of composition and dynamics, the things that Tuck taught her or the things she learnt at the Berklee College Of Music – that’s what interests me, how she fucks with the establishment that tried to trap her into theory, whilst learning some of their tricks. I don’t get particularly excited when she does the nutty stuff but that’s what gets a noticeable rise in excitement in the audience. The last time I saw her, the crowd responded with glee to the more nonsensical madness she threw out, as if the more ‘crazy’ people think she is, then the more exciting she becomes as a personality – a left of centre risk-taker, penetrating the dull mainstream, winning Grammys. It’s certainly a triumph for art but it’s the periphery of her genius that drew attention to her skills. How she invents parts for the songs with distorted riffs, carefully arranging them in between the compelling lyrics and the appealing melodies, stamping solidly down on the beat of the drum machines, a foundation for outer space synth parts that intersect with the jagged fuzz, this is the fascinating Annie Clark that blossoms into the captivating St. Vincent.
I will buy a vinyl copy of her album as soon as it comes out and will always follow her as I will Leslie Feist except with Leslie Feist I won’t go and see her live, dressed as Laa-Laa.