St. Vincent: Points of Departure
No band is an island. The best songwriters tend to be sponge-like soaker-uppers of music, film, fine art, literature and other forms of culture, be they popular or obscure, and these influences often find their way into the music, helping listeners branch out and develop new interests. With Points of Departure, we use our favorite groups as springboards for broader cultural investigations and highlight some of the cool things you might get into via your record collection. This week: St. Vincent.
Annie Clark got her St. Vincent stage name from the Greenwich Village hospital where poet Dylan Thomas died, finding inspiration in the Nick Cave song ‘The She Goes My Beautiful World,’ which features the line, "Dylan Thomas died drunk at St. Vincent's hospital." The Texas native is known to have a dark sense of humor, so its no wonder she paid homage to Thomas by deeming her music "the place where poetry goes to die." But Thomas’ influence is clear in Clark’s songs, as sinister imagery mixes with pain and beauty, perfection and destruction. The singer croons lyrics like, "Bodies, can't you see what everybody wants from you? / For you could want that, too," expressing frustration with the roles of womanhood in ‘Cruel.’ Her lyrics find her fighting battles similar to those fought by Thomas in his whiskey-fueled lyrics, and both romanticize the grim while resisting the harnesses of social roles.
Clark's resume may boast collaborations with psychedelic choir the Polyphonic Spree, indie heartthrob Sufjan Stevens and gentle folksmen Bon Iver, but as St. Vincent, she gets downright progressive. Her guitar style is derived from Robert Fripp of King Crimson, who pioneered a prog-rock sound with ambient soundscapes, all while laying the groundwork for the instrumental tape-looping technique known as Frippertronics. Clark’s work has always reflected a Fripp appreciation -- evident in her blend of avant-garde guitars and airy vocals -- but its her collaboration with New Wave icon David Bryne on the album ‘Love This Giant’ that proved Clark to be a prog-rock guitar heroine.
After a long stint on the road, Clark returned home to her New York City apartment to clear her tour-fried mind with a little help from Mickey Mouse and friends. While enjoying Disney classics like ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘The Lady and the Tramp,’ Clark would mute the movies and imagine her own film scores over the animated movies. Those St. Vincent-ized soundtracks led to her sophomore album, ‘Actor.’ Songs like ‘Black Rainbow’ and ‘The Neighbors’ have a whimsical sound, but they incorporate distinctly adult twists with their surreal metaphors. The atmospheric melodies in each song quickly turn so menacing that you can almost see the scheming evil stepmother over lyrics about “black rainbows over [her] house” and children “foaming at the mouth.”