Ten Tracks That Mattered: #1 – St. Vincent

St. Vincent - Marry Me“Your Lips Are Red” by St. Vincent

This wasn’t really a contest. And to anyone who’s been by my last.fm page lately (yes, that’s Seals & Crofts at #3,) it wasn’t really a surprise. Annie Clark, recording as St. Vincent, put out what was just a hair’s breadth shy of the album of the year. That honor actually rests with Deerhunter’s Cryptograms (see previous post) but only because that album held together better as a cohesive whole. This album is a little more fractured, but only because Ms. Clark’s imagination has run wild throughout. The number of music ideas on Marry Me is staggering. It’s a fantastic collage of sounds and melodies and moods and words that, months after its release, still resonates.

The album is meticulously produced. The sounds that we encounter on even a cursory jaunt through the track list are varied and precise. There are handclaps, horns, bells, piano, synths, harmonics and strings, often within the same 32 bar stretch. It’s an explosion of texture, and it’s all held together by Clark’s sense of melody and her throaty, pliable voice. One gets the sense that she’s a restless genius, trying out everything that comes to mind and having the audacity to pull it off. She played and toured with both The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens before putting this album together and it feels as if these ideas had been stored and were building pressure before she released them.

St. Vincent

“Your Lips Are Red” is the embodiment of this chaos and beauty. It took a few listens before the genius of the tune struck me. It’s simple on the surface. There’s a driving rhythm. Interwoven throughout are off-kilter vocals, minor key guitar riffs and explosions of sound, little Trevor Horn-like bursts of cacophony. It’s aggressive, unnerving material, seemingly without form, but building to something (we hope) bigger and different. As it progresses it begins to get beneath the skin. The discomfort grows. We need it to turn somewhere, to resolve, to come into a different sort of focus. We’re off balance. We’re tilting.

The turn comes at almost the three minute mark, and what a jaw-dropping, head-spinning turn it is. Like a fading storm, the chaos recedes and we’re left with a strumming guitar, a mournful violin voice and then, finally, a full bore, major-key finale. “Your skin’s so fair / Your skin’s so fair it’s not fair,” she repeats, as if it’s supposed to make sense, but though it doesn’t really mean anything taken literally, we feel like it does, because the music somehow provides the meaning that the words do not. The piano still bangs away in the background, the strings still spin about like dervishes, and a chorus of voices join in, but it holds together and as the last violin settles into quiet, we get it. I don’t know how it works, but it does.

It’s powerful stuff. And I can’t seem to get enough of it. In fact, I’ve perfected a way to inject it intravenously. Saves the ol’ iPod battery.

St. Vincent

So hey, that’s it for the Ten (12) Tracks That Mattered in 2007, but I’m not done bloviating about the year in music. Not by a long shot, so stay tuned. I’ve still got the runners up to talk about, the stuff I didn’t like (even though I was supposed to) and the stuff that I never got around to listening to but I thought I’d mention anyway in case you’re wondering where [your favorite band] is on the list. Plus, Delta Goodrem! Can you stand it?

St. Vincent: Pitchfork review

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