Singer/songwriter; multi-instrumentalist; guitar hero; arch-collaborator; maverick football coach – Annie Clark is the kind of person whose limits seem to be defined only by how many limbs she has free at any particular moment. This restless talent and schizoid energy have come to define her musical output as St. Vincent thus far: three deliriously creative albums (not to mention 2012’s brass band team-up with key influence David Byrne) that walk with one foot in mainstream guitar pop and the other teetering on the lunatic fringe.
Each successive album comes to us as a further fine-tuning of the vision first sketched out on 2007’s Marry Me – pure melody butting up against jerky disharmony; the rose giving way to the thorns. There’s been progress along the way, of course. The home-made sound of Annie Clark’s debut has receded in favour of gleaming electronics and acrobatic guitar flourishes on the albums that followed it, with a growing sense of groove on the low end. Nevertheless, the changes felt like considered tweaks by an artist zoning in on the best expression of the sounds in her head.
In that sense, Clark’s decision to make her fourth album self-titled suggests the quest is over – what we’re about to hear is St. Vincent, distilled to 100% purity. And on this evidence it’s no vain boast, as St. Vincent showcases a musician and songwriter in total command of her powers, complete with an imperious lilac-platinum bouffant that seems to announce the presence of indie’s undisputed Khaleesi.
From the first 8-bit beat of panicky opener “Rattlesnake” to the last wash of synth on David Bowie-esque space ballad “Severed Crossed Fingers”, this is St. Vincent engineered to perfection, or at least close enough to be mentioned in the same sentence. Those who never warmed to the sharp-elbowed vibe won’t find themselves wooed by a new angle, but for everyone else St. Vincent is close to definitive. All of Clark’s familiar tics are present and weaponised for pure pleasure. The big numbers are bold and plugged full of fascinating hooks, like the propulsive shredding on the chorus of “Birth in Reverse” or the appropriately regimented horns on social media ragequit “Digital Witness”. “Huey Newton”, meanwhile, matches Queens Of The Stone Age for sheer pelvis-thrusting swagger when Clark gets her teeth into a belly-rumbling riff halfway through.
St. Vincent is also a model of impeccable pacing; its ebbs and flows provide a few pit-stops from its swirling high notes. They also cede a little more ground to Clark’s lyrics, which snarl and snap when the distortion’s turned up, but soften to sincerity in the quieter moments. “I Prefer Your Love”, a song dedicated to her mother, might be her simplest and most powerful expression of affection to date, and when she sings “All the good in me is because of you”, she wrings it for every ounce of love and fear.
With each album tangibly improving on the last, it’s intriguing to imagine how St. Vincent is going to refine – or re-define – her eccentric sound in the future. Have we reached a natural peak before re-invention, or are there new heights that Clark is yet to coax out with her continual honing? Who knows. But in the process of pursuing that perfect expression, she’s become one of the most consistent and creative talents in modern rock, and doesn’t seem to have encountered her limits yet.