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Saint Vincent
Self Titled

What this all about?
The new Annie “Saint Vincent” Clark album will be released tomorrow. It’s her fourth album. Full press push crescendoing today, subsiding throughout the week until the summer tour machine / festy bus gears up.

Huh, who?
St Vincent is an American musician. She is 31 and from Oklahoma if Wikipedia is to believed. She got her start as a side player in that band that was on Scrubs once and also worked as a counselor at Sufjan Stevens Christian Summer Camp. She went on to write a handful of amazing songs, getting into lots of magazines, being on Portlandia, appearing on a pretty funny episode of Comedy Bang Bang, and collaborating with a fossil because kissing the ring is and always will be a gross but necessary ritual.

What’s the album sound like
Prog. Some horns. Weird buzzsaw snyths and atmospheric stuff. Sounds like a dialectic between her last release, a collabo with Talking “David Byrne” Heads, and her last solo album, which is everyone’s favorite still. That all makes sense if you think about it.

Anyway, this new album is pretty awesome. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s catchy, has a lot of verve and swing. It sounds beautiful. Like, audophilac and detailed with lots of interesting little bits and bobs floating through the mix. But it’s far from unfocused.

Like most albums that aren’t social-political or embarrassingly autobiographical, it’s something of a lyrical mishmash. She leads off by talking about being naked. Then there’s a line about masturbating in the next song. Stuff about Jesus. A song about a founder of the Black Panthers. Mostly, St Vincent sounds pretty happy if in an out-there place. Probably because she is out there, as in the 99th percentile, having won the genetic, work ethic, and right place right time lotteries. That’s a trifecta that usually leads to something good. (BNM, baby!)

File under: “maximalist art pop”, if that’s a phrase you don’t mind. But let’s keep things vague - why put labels on our love.

Isn’t she supposed to be some sort of guitar prodigy?
Yeah, she’s really good at playing guitar like a lot of people. This album’s a little less about guitar only because there’s so much more going on. Hard to believe, but the compositions on her first albums are pretty tame and watered down compared to these. Like the difference between Dippin’ Dots at the mall and battered and deep fried Dippin’ Dots at the state fair.

Aren’t I tired of this St Vincent?
I don’t know - are you? Just like wait. It’s only February so virtually no one will care or remember about this album by the time the snow melts.

No wait, I love this album!
Yeah, it’s really good. In the round of interviews she gave, St Vincent mentioned Lorrie Moore a few times (get ready to read some pieces…), David Carr, Miles Davis, Cormac McCarthy, and probably didn’t get around to mentioning scientology, flying first class, True Detective, and taking DMT with Bob Dylan during the Super Bowl. There will be tons of coverage, and many people will be talking about it. Because, again, there’s not a lot going on right now. (Music-speaking… there’s always global climate change, Ukraine, Venezuela, Thailand, Uganda, trans*phobia, global capitalism, Amazon, etc., etc.)

Final thoughts
St Vincent is the sort of artist, like Kanye West, where the spectacle around-and-of her overshadows the music. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that. These people are performers, after all. That just makes it easy to either dismiss or love them based on a lot of surface signifiers. The contradiction is that these surface signifiers are very much a part of their art, as well. (Wear the chain that always give me back pain / fucking up my money so yeah I had to act sane.)

How St Vincent looks has always been a big part of her public image. Her first two albums have striking portraits of her on the cover. They’re very personal. Strange Mercy, the one I said was everyone’s favorite, has a picture of a mouth (probably hers? metaphorically hers for sure) being strangled by white plastic or drowned in a milky substance - struggling to be heard. This album has her sitting on a throne with unreal-looking strawberry blonde hair. She’s said it’s self-titled because she’s like a whole new person. And she is.

It’s pretty clear that St Vincent right now is like an Esper form Terra from Final Fantasy VI. Overwhelming and destroying everything in front of her. Her new form is just an outward manifestation of her unbridled artistic power.

St Vincent
"Cheerleader" (Acoustic) (Live on KEXP)

Ever since this morning, when I saw Perpetua post of last night’s performance by St Vincent on Conan, I’ve been thinking about how she’s become such an emblem for straight-up rock ‘n’ roll excellence. She’s very good. Anyway, yeah, a staple part of that whole thing is the acoustic radio performance, and here’s a version of “Cheerleader” from a Seattle radio performance. It’s interesting to hear her play it on an acoustic guitar. It also makes me hold starry visions of a St Vincent - Dirty Projectors collaboration.

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Top 10 Songs Of The Year, Rated On A 0 To 10 Scale, Relative To Each Other

Note: It should simply be accepted that a song on this list receiving even a 0 score is still better than any song not on this list that would have, using different criteria, received a 10 out of 10 rating. (You can download these ten tracks as a non-mix mix here, or just click through the songs to stream them.)

1.7 | "Santa Fe" by Beirut

I could hardly ignore this song because this is, for me, the definitive Beirut song. I once lived in Santa Fe, down the street from Beirut’s parent’s house. I spent a New Year’s eve with him and his wife, burning the furniture in my house and watching "Why Must I Cry?" and Saddam Hussein’s hanging. I have a lot of snowed-in and/or dark memories of Santa Fe. But “Santa Fe” expresses just about every light, happy, and good memory I have of the place.

1.9 | "Otis" by Jay-Z and Kanye West

"Otis" is too goofy to be as serious as it is. It’s to happy to be so mean. I’ve heard like three other rappers this year rip off that "going through customs" line, as if air travel were the new pinnacle of class. If anything, it’s where white celebrities (hey, Kevin Smith and Alec Baldwin) are treated like people of color. "Otis" is similarly democratizing: it balls up all our class resentment and racial hatred and re-packages it into a consumer-friendly jam. It’s not exactly anesthetizing, but it doesn’t pile on the pain, either.

3.2 | "The Wilhelm Scream" by James Blake

In cinema, the “Wilhelm Scream” is some bullshit sound production that nerdy guys will tell you about. The song “The Wilhelm Scream” is some awesomely transcendent sound production that nerdy guys will tell you about. The main difference? The filmic Wilhelm Scream is about 1.3 seconds long, and the Blake song covers five different levels of emotional hell over the course of 277 seconds. What you think is just a background artifact at around the 120 second mark rises slightly through the right channel like a lone cicada gnawing on your brain. It indicates that the absolute bottom of the song is about to fall out 30 seconds later, and if you don’t get shivers every time you hear it, then call an hearse; you’re dead.

3.9 | "Haters Opinion" by Green Ova Underground

My favorite video game writer (sorry Bissell, stop repeating your talking points, ok?) is Tim Rogers. His primary innovation (beyond elegantly entertaining bloviation) is his anatomy of friction. My favorite of his frictions is “crunchy”, which is “when things collide, hold there for an instant, and then, in that instant of holding, a ‘winner’ is determined, and it is that winner who proceeds beyond the loser.” This production by Clams Casino is the crunchiest production. I would literally pay $19 for a high-definition version of this song because at this fidelity, the rough edges have about as much prominence as the chompy-hungry-crunchy parts, which is a shame. Shady Blaze is a pretty good rapper, too.

5.2 | "Illusions of Grandeur" by Lil B

My iTunes has the Illusions of Grandeur mixtape tagged as 2010, but the internet says it’s a 2011 joint. Great. The thing about Lil B is that listening to Lil B is really unpleasant. I do not in any way subscribe the theory that he’s some kind of idiot-savant, which is frankly kind of racist. But it’s also the least interesting explanation for his despite-all appeal. “Illusions of Grandeur” gets to the best parts of his work — Clams Casino production, thematic uplift, an actual narrative thrust — all of which are simply missing from 78.333333333333333% of his work. “I was a robber, turned positive” is all I need to hear, and I’m just taken away from here. It’s wonderful.

6.0 | "Strange Mercy" by St. Vincent

The song directly following “Strange Mercy”, “Neutered Fruit”, is perhaps a better song if we’re being really real here. But this is music. “Neutered Fruit“‘s sort of quasi-Egyptian, block-like melody (as in, it sounds like pieces of the Great Pyramid of Giza falling about your head) is majestic and disturbing. “Strange Mercy” is neither. It’s a close, personal song. Comforting. It’s an amniotic-sort of song, and if that’s dismissive toward St. Vincent or Annie Clark, then I do not apologize for feeling comforted by the things that comfort me. “Strange Mercy” is the feeling of being clutched.

6.1 | "Something Wrong" (feat. Codie G) by Kristmas

Honestly, I’m not sure how Kristmas, G-Side, Yelawolf, Block Beattaz, DJ Burn One, and all the rest of the New Alabama Rap Consciousness Collective (N.A.R.C.C.) relate or fit together. From taking it all in this year, their work has all blended together into a textureless meta-narrative, which is how I also came to understand Robert Lowell. What I do know is that Kristmas is really one of the only rappers I’ve ever related to on a deep, personal level, and “Something Wrong” is too smart (and interesting, which is easy to forget when you’re making ‘smart’ music) to ignore.

9.1 | "212" by Azealia Banks

I mean, I know that NME thinks Azealia Banks is cool, but the only substantive thing about her is still on The Singles Jukebox. I guess she’s been ‘around’ for years, but her “212” and imminent major label debut are somehow the mirror opposite of LDR? There’s a lot of stuff you can do to write about her? I don’t know. You know what I know? I know I listened to this song literally 50 times in one day. I went on vacation the next day, which was stressful because it was a travel day. By two days later, my life felt empty and purposeless, and I didn’t quite pin it down until I woke with a song in my heart. I’d discovered that listening to “212” has somehow become sort of integral to my everyday existence.

9.6 | "Fuck Your Ethnicity" by Kendrick Lamar

"Fuck Your Ethnicity" is a koan of a song. It has the catchiest and pseudo-objectively best hook of any rap song in the last year or more. I can’t even begin to understand how to explain why this song means so much to me without saying things like “It’s the ‘Exhibit C’ of 2011, except it’s both better and made by someone who actually seems to like rapping.” Or, “It makes anyone who’s ever said ‘#swag’ seem like they should probably get in line for the M.O.R. rap gulags.” Or, “It’s probably the only rap song you need to hear if you only hear one rap song every year.” I don’t know why I put all those in scare quotes, because they’re true. It’s just that “Fuck Your Ethnicity” is really understated in the way it’s good. Trying to say something ostentatious in an encomium feels disingenuous. You just have to listen to the song, and you’ll get it.

9.9 | "California" by EMA

I don’t know why I didn’t give this song a 10. (This is, of course, the very most objective and authoritative assertion of aesthetic criteria you’re likely to read all year.) I shaved off a tenth of a point, I think, because I know the song will just get better with age, so I wanted to leave a little room for it to grow in stature. A dirty secret: I don’t see a lot of live music, even though I live in New York and love music. I saw EMA, though, and it was great! She’s a stalking giant on stage, and she actually wears this gold necklace that says EMA. I like how this song mentions the album’s title in its lyrics, because it’s somehow not cheesy in this instance. I love how this song is just a clinic in writing a bridge-less masterpiece.

I’ll confess to you now, Past Life Martyred Saints is my favorite (ahem, I mean, the "best") album of 2011. It just reads like a Nirvana album to me. That sounds terrible to me when I write it, but I mean it recaptures a revolutionary feeling without being reactionary. It’s very modern, but it still has its soul. It’s wicked, like, young and concerned . It’s also aloof. So this whole Fuck California. You made me boring” opening, which is immediate and arresting, also sort of cracks me up, even though the song is as serious as a mortal wound. She says, “What does failure taste like? It tastes like dirt. I’m begging you to please look away”, which is insightful. Earlier she says, “I’m just twenty-two. I don’t mind dying”, which is stupid. There’s virtually no exposition, and no narrative, in “California”, yet it feels like all those great old movies I’m supposed to have seen. The song is great because it’s about four and a half minutes of entirely living inside someone else’s head. I truly believe in the phenomenological reduction as a tool for daily living, so it’s not surprising that both relation and transcendence figure highly in my musical proclivities. This song somehow has maxed out both categories, at the same time, and that’s wonderful and impressive — beyond words and numbers.