you don’t mean that, say you’re sorry

One new CD whose songs have been getting lots of eartime lately is St. Vincent’s Marry Me. St. Vincent is the name used by Annie Clark, a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and vocalist still in her early 20s. Judging from this debut, we’ll be hearing a lot more from her – at least I hope we will. What’s perhaps most impressive (and at times, frustrating) is Clark’s range, stretching from the clamorous dissonance that closes “Now, Now” to the delicacy of the somewhat creepy “Landmines.” In between (and here’s where the “frustrating” comes in), Clark is maybe a bit too restless and too clever with a handful of pastiches, drawing from various popular musics all the way back to the ’30s. In general I prefer the songs that are a bit harder to place and a bit, well, noisier, such as “Your Lips Are Red.”

That said, the CD’s title track, which comes across all Carole King at first, has much more going on than mere compositional sophistication (which it does have, in common with King’s work). Take the opening melodic phrase (more or less the chorus): sounds effortless, a classic piano-ballad line, right? It is…but it also rises up over an octave-and-a-half range, including a couple of precipitous leaps (such as the 9th between the second “marry” and “me”). And Clark sinuously works her phrasing with and against the meter (the first two phrases are six beats long, divided in half – even though the overall feel of the track is two-like rather than three-ish: I apologize for the highly technical language). And of course she fools you: with that piano, that title, and the first two lines, we’re set up for a lyric that, uh, rather changes course. (The character maybe should get together with the narrator of R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” in fooling people into thinking of late-night K-Tel sunset love…and who’s that, outside the house with a pair of binoculars? Why it’s Sting, stalking his ex to the tune of “Every Breath You Take”…)

In a way, if there’s a problem with the CD, maybe it’s sequencing. “Now, Now” makes an auspicious opening track, yes – but it also means that the more straightforward songs (not that Clark is ever all that straightforward) seem a bit less impressive by comparison. The album is frontloaded, I think (I’m posting three of the first four tracks), and ending with two primarily acoustic pastiches might not have been the best idea. Given that the last four tracks are all fairly quiet, the CD quite nearly goes from loudest to quietest track – I almost think “Now, Now” might have worked better as a closer.

But hey: that’s why Jesus and Einstein and Sherlock Holmes invented shuffle mode.

St. Vincent “Marry Me” (Marry Me 2007)
St. Vincent “Now, Now” (Marry Me 2007)
St. Vincent “Your Lips Are Red” (Marry Me 2007)

Update: Excellent! Pitchfork confirms that the album title is a reference to the running joke on Arrested Development.

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