St. Vincent

Marry Me

(Beggar's Banquet; 2007)

By Peter Hepburn | 26 January 2008

For those of you who haven't noticed, an announcement: melodrama and indie rock now go comfortably hand in hand once again. After a few years there at the beginning of the millennium where cool, restrained rock reigned, it's like we're back to the hey-day of mid-'90s emoting. And though it's mainly been a bunch of boys that seem most directly responsible -- Arcade Fire, Final Fantasy, Sufjan Stevens, and Patrick Wolf -- it was only a matter of time until we got a female singer-songwriter interested in showing these guys how it should be done. Annie Clark, known professionally as St. Vincent, appears to be very much up to the task.

St. Vincent's debut record, Marry Me, is a record I find myself throwing on very often: it's pretty enough to make for good easy listening and at the same time tricky and experimental enough to make it quite engaging. Where some of her peers can be overly twee, too clever, or just alarmingly earnest, Clark manages to blend a sense of dramatics and romance with a sly wit, her songs as personal as those boys listed above but her humor making them far more palatable. The gorgeous piano-driven title track, for instance, might have been lovely treacle if it weren't for the occasional clever or bizarre lyric ("let's do what Mary and Joseph did / without the kid").

Clark, a former member of both the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens's band, seems to have developed an ear for pop music that draws on the strong points of both those groups. Songs are meticulously crafted and layered, vocal sections are especially well manicured, and there's no shying away from less-common instruments. She's also willing to go silly, as with opening vocal salvo of the lovely "Jesus Saves, I Spend," but can make it work on sheer charm if nothing else. It backfires occasionally, or can feel like too much production (does "Landmines" really need that harp?), but these instances tend to be refreshingly rare.

It's the sense of the dramatic that really does set this album apart. Where someone like Feist may be able to sell a torch song better, I doubt she'd manage as well with something as tricky as the memorably harsh "Your Lips Are Red" or the over-the-top verve of "Paris is Burning." To her credit, Clark can manage these sorts of songs just as well when she reins the instrumentation in a bit too, as the gorgeous "What Me Worry" proves. She has a ways to go before producing a really great record, but with Marry Me Clark certainly opens that up as a possibility. It's an excellent debut, and hints at a potentially significant force in indie rock in the coming years.