St. Vincent’s self-titled album St. Vincent was my first exposure to the wildly awesome and eccentric vocal/guitar stylings of the musician also known as Annie Clark.
Specifically, this song and video right here:
I just stopped writing for three minutes to watch that video again.
St. Vincent’s style is at this perfect corner between “baffling” and “catchy pop.” The lyrics in “Digital Witness”, and indeed every song on the album, are immediately understandable but with layers of deeper meaning you don’t get out of most pop music. And this video feels like it fell out of Terry Gilliam’s mind. It’s weird and wonderful and I love it.
This combination of eminently re-listenable catchy music and deep lyrical complexity makes every single track a winner.
But the magic doesn’t stop there.
My favorite thing about St. Vincent is that it’s not afraid to take risks with the mixing and technical aspects in every single track. St. Vincent’s voice is strong, smoky, and powerful, and doesn’t need any digital enhancement. But she’s not afraid to use these techniques extensively, on both her voice and the other instruments in the mix.
Distortion, grain, and digital trickery abound, and it all works to produce something at once mesmerizing and strange.
Also impressive is the amount of gutsy hyper-directional stereo mixing. Instruments and even vocals are regularly panned hard to either side, or go flying back and forth. In a world of safe, non-dynamic pop music, the mixing here is delightful. Everything remains intelligible, but your ears and brain are continually engaged by the way that different notes fly around in the mix.
There are more layers of audio and volume dynamics than the typical album as well. Where one instrument would do fine, St. Vincent uses two, and some digital distortion. Where some songs would play at full blast, St. Vincent is not afraid to take things down a notch to draw you back in.
If you’re a headphone lover, it’s a tour de force, a true test of how well your headphones can image, and present different frequency ranges.
Let’s talk about some other songs I really like that aren’t Digital Witness.
“Birth in Reverse”
This song and video show off St. Vincent’s incredible ability to work a guitar. If you want to hear a guitar do weird and cool stuff, here you go.
It also has a great balance of cheeky fun humor and deep weirdness that I think perfectly encapsulates her brand of music.
“Severed Crossed Fingers”
This is like elevator music that came out of a nightmare. A great example of how depth and dynamics can elevate a song.
The bass notes on this track are really cool. And the background choir shows off the almost hymn-esque vibe that underlines a good chunk of the album. The mix of different genre techniques here sounds on paper like it wouldn’t work at all, but it really does.
This one makes great use of a hyperactive stereo field to draw your attention to different parts of the song, and remains just shy of “too complex” to stay listenable. It uses more vocal distortion than most of the other tracks on the album.
I love St. Vincent, and the same style appears on St. Vincent’s other albums as well. If you’re looking for something cool, different, and wholly original that’s still as re-listenable as modern pop, check out the whole album right now on your musical platform of choice! The deluxe version is probably worth looking at for its extra tracks.
Also of note before I go… somehow, St. Vincent is able to achieve the same weirdness in her live performances that her videos/albums have. It’s great!