St Vincent is the recording alias of Annie Clark. Clark has served time in the eighty legged grove machine of the Polyphonic Spree and playing guitar for Sufjan Stevens – on Marry Me she steps out of the shadows and stage front for the first time.
Her previous employers are a useful signpost towards the sound that St Vincent produce. This is indie pop meets late ’60s Beach Boys, sugar rush sweetness with umbra edges. All lush strings, twisting motifs and surround sound production, while Clark’s voice can switch from candy floss soft to as harsh as carpet burns.
Now, Now is an indifferent opening. A tinkling music box, backwards string washes, reverb heavy drums, a snaking guitar line, warped backing vocals and that’s just the first thirty seconds. Then you get an acoustic guitar chord exploding from the mix, about three different vocal hooks and a walking baseline – too much clutter for a wafer thin idea, plodding where you would expect it to soar. There’s no ignition, and the track singularly fails to take off, with the heavy production making it sound both limp and heavy handed, which is some feat.
Following on is the particularly grating Jesus Saves, I Spend, which is as whimsical as the title suggests. I’ll take the gritty fear of gospel every time over this flimsy mess every time. Thankfully things start to improve with the dirty growling bass of Your Lips are Red, Clark’s voice full of menace. The strings get slightly melodramatic but there is drama and darkness. The backing vocals daubed across the song are as unsettling as little voices in your head at 3am.
The title track works for the simple fact that it displays two traits missing from so much of the material on show, namely a wonderful melody and a degree of restraint. You don’t get everything including kitchen sink production, just a piano and some smart synth hand claps which allows the song to breath. The soulful edge to Clark’s singing is reminiscent of Carol King, indeed it could have come straight from Laurel Canyon in the early 1970s.
Human Racing is not a cover of Nik Kershaw‘s ’80s single but a lovely prism of light guitar lines, fluttering vocals and summery brass. The Carol King influence surfaces again on gentle throb of the closing What Me Worry, a flute skipping across like stones across an ocean at twilight.
These highlights are countered by the murky mess of Paris Is Burning and the trite lyrics of Apocalypse Song. There is ample proof on Marry Me that Annie Clark is a precociously talented musician – she has mastered the apparatus but hasn’t yet the skill to carry off all the experiments. Her song writing isn’t quite a match for her musical chops.
For this type of orchestral indie to work you need a gold plated set of melodies because the arrangements rely on them to excite the ear. There just aren’t enough of them on Marry Me to carry the weight of ambition evident. One to keep a close watch on though.