One of 2014’s best albums was re-released in Deluxe Edition format this week. Annie Clark – better known by her stage name, St. Vincent – released her eponymously titled album in February of last year and has been touring in support of it since. With the release of the Deluxe Edition, the tour has been expanded and Clark is continuing to dazzle with her minimalist guitar style. She is player and, despite a noticeable lack of show-offy solos, she’s very much this era’s indie rock guitar goddess. Granted, she’s covered some very guitar-heavy stuff; she sang lead and played rhythm on “Lithium” for Nirvana’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and she’s been known to cover Hendrix at some of her live shows. The latter, however, is a departure in style for Clark and her fourth studio album is her at her most realized.
Synth beats, pop rhythms and understated guitar melodies in songs like “Birth in Reverse” encapsulate what has become Clark’s unique style. The Deluxe Edition of St. Vincent, with five additional bonus tracks, is the exclamation point on an already complete album. “Bad Believer” is heavily driven by low synthesizers and a stomping beat that swerves dangerously close to house music but is saved by Clark’s voice and a more melodic bridge that brings the track back towards more familiar Clark territory. “Pieta,” is anchored by a drum machine and seems to lazily and serenely drift around choral vocals, highlighting Clark’s strong gift for arrangement. “Sparrow” is ethereal and heavily electronic. “Del Rio” is like a sentence in parentheses, as Clark makes heavy use of a pitch shifter, but the track is, in its very St. Vincent way, a guitar track. The final additional track, a remix of “Digital Witness” subtitled the “DARKSIDE Remix,” at first sounds too dancey. Yet, after a few careful listens, one can hear a fairly well-stated Talking Heads influence and, it’s worth noting, Clark has collaborated with another non-traditional guitarist with a gift for quirky arrangement, David Byrne, in the past.
The collaboration between Byrne and Clark, 2012’s Love This Giant, was a miss for two artists who rarely miss. The album is worth mentioning in context with the Deluxe Edition of St. Vincent, however, because the 2014 solo effort by Clark is a strong confluence of inspiration and style that she’s been developing over time. As much as some people want to paint Clark as a modern-day guitar hero, it’s often done through the wrong lens. While each era has undoubtedly its own guitar hero – Hendrix in the ’60s, Clapton in the ’70s, Van Halen in the ’80s – the term itself has evolved. Lengthy solos are often left out of modern music in favor of the whole arrangement where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Clark seems to understand this and uses her instrument accordingly, as the contributing factor rather than a showpiece. The additional tracks on the Deluxe Edition put a fine point on this concept, expanding on an already put-together piece of work.
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