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St. Vincent - Marry Me

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Artist: St. Vincent

Album: Marry Me

Label: Beggars Banquet

Review date: Jul. 16, 2007

St. Vincent is a 24-year old woman named Annie Clark. If you go to indie shows much, you will likely know her as a member of Sufjan Stevens’ or The Polyphonic Spree’s touring bands, or as the opener on John Vanderslice’s recent tour and selected dates with Stephen Malkmus and Jose Gonzalez. She’s an excellent solo performer, often as interesting (and, in the case of artists like Malkmus, more interesting) as the headliners, but deferential enough to not oversell her tightly-wound songs. Marry Me is her debut, produced in a way that seems like a deliberate attempt to stretch out her legs in the studio. Live, St. Vincent is a totally solid solo performer: some of the cleanest, nicest guitar parts and on-key singing in indiedom. In the studio, it’s a totally different beast - a little soggy with orchestral coloring and the 24-track fuckery often seems rote. Taking St. Vincent at face value, Marry Me can be an enervating listen because Clark is playing against her strengths.

Of course, for an artist whose main exposure has been through endless touring, this kind of embellishment is a smart, necessary move. Though she never totally reworks any of her live staples, the addition of drums courtesy of Man or Astro-man?’s Brian Teasley nails down the songs enough to give Clark the opportunity to pull off some proggy disjunctions, an opportunity she doesn’t waste on “Your Lips Are Red.” Despite having some pointless lyrics (“your skin’s so fair / your skin’s so fair it’s not fair”), it gels musically in a way that album opener “Now, Now” only briefly does. The "new"-hungry indie blogs have largely passed over her strengths while attempting to make the case for her music. Lazy Bjork comparisons, in particular, are inexcusable unless qualified as the hushed-strained whisper of Vespertine; Clark’s mildly quirky vocal style bears more resemblance to Regina Spektor-by-way-of-Andrew-Bird. She oscillates between a familiar kind of distracted undersigning and a brassy but deliberately compressed torch singing (live, she uses two microphones, one of which might or might not be a rewired telephone mic). As with Bird, the patina never really holds. In terms of songwriting, if Bjork's full-throated, pagan exorcisms call to mind fractured, cinematic narratives and barely-containable emotion, Marry Me's title track and centerpiece is perfect music for the credits of a heartwarming Sundancer - a whimsical piece of thought wryly commenting on the narrative's ultimately traditional values while tying up any loose ends with an 'isn't-life-strange-yet-wondrous' resignation.

It’s no surprise, then, that the schmaltzy songs here, notably “All My Stars Aligned” (featuring Bowie pianist Mike Garson contributing some Nordstrom-worthy tinkle), go over better than the diorama-rock of "Jesus Saves, I Spend." In keeping with that tired aesthetic, there’s an irksome forced cleverness on the first half of the album. Though none of the tracks in the second half have the compulsive listenability of “Marry Me,” it’s stronger and more restrained, having both the closest approximation of her live show and the strongest argument for her as a studio artist (“Human Racing” and “Land Mines,” respectively). Ultimately, St. Vincent’s gentle anachronisms are her strong suit, though they can’t help but sometimes seem like placeholder; in this, she’s similar to Andrew Bird. Both make parlour music for a generation that has a very hard time imagining parlours.

By Brandon Bussolini

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