Review Summary: Spree as a bird.
Dallas, Bible-Belt native Annie Clark is the guitarist for the Polyphonic Spree, so it’s no wonder why she looks so frazzled and pleading on Marry Me
’s cover. Her hair is curled and whipped out from her pale complexion and arched eyebrows above wide eyes, her shirt unbuttoned, showing her skin and, well, her soul. Marry Me
marks a departure for Clark (or St. Vincent, the name she performs under), the guitarist known for her stage performance and her cute intricacies, a common standout for the Spree’s line-up. But it’s here that Clark finally lets her own
hair down; the now-formulaic Spree could prosper from Clark’s own eclectic soul bearing.
With a voice that would make Leslie Feist jealous, Clark doesn’t just strip down to Feist’s own acoustic driven music. No, she takes matters into her own hands, celebrating a wide array of tools at her disposal. Just on her own, she masters the guitars, bass, piano, organ, moog, synthesizers, clavieta, xylophone, vibraphone, dulcimer, drum programming, triangle, and percussion; a handful of musicians help out with instruments like the French horn, upright bass and trumpets. On album opener, ‘Now Now,’ a power house of towering instruments (with even a spurt of guitar solos, courtesy of Clark’s history) justly empowers Clark’s no-funny-business persona; “I’m not your mother’s favorite dog,” she sings, “I’m not the carpet you walk on. I’m not one small atomic bomb; I’m not anything at all. You don’t mean that; say you’re sorry.” Devoid of the cheery exterior of the Spree, Clark taps into her own sinister emotions. It’s as refreshing for us as I’m sure it was for her.
But it’s more the execution of what Clark is doing that powers Marry Me
, skimping over her sometimes ambiguous and cryptic lyrics that feel like jotted down notes instead of fleshed out stories. In ‘Your Lips Are Red,’ Clark embarks on a heavily down tuned synthesized trip (“My face is drawn… my face is drawn with a No. 2 pencil. Your face is drawn from drawing words right from my lips”) that plays off what she isn’t saying, instead implying with her tone and the jutting, villainous pianos and melodic electric guitars. In the R&B beat driven ‘Marry Me,’ Clark is hell bent on marrying this John character, throwing guilt and self-pity in with a touch of sadness (“I’m as fickle as a paper doll being kicked by the wind when, and when I touch down again I’ll be in someone else’s arms… We’ll do what Mary and Joseph did without the kid”).
But Marry Me
is at its best when Clark tampers with its own formula, corrupting loops into soul-stealing melodies and choruses into violin violent passages; ‘Apocalypse Song,’ while far from mirroring its telling title, shifts between indie pop and indie rock like it has any business doing so (she makes a damn good argument that it should). Its first verse builds like Clark is going to place her, figuratively speaking, balls to the wall for the chorus; instead, she falters for a second before pulling back into a simmering, high octave chorus. ‘Landmines’ is a synthesized, alt-rock ballad that gives Clark the kind of edgy, hopeless territory she was hinting at leading up to. In the titillating ‘Paris is Burning,’ she uses a Paris revolution as a metaphor for her own personal revolution over a scheming player (“Sticks and stones have made me smarter; it’s words that cut me under my armor… I am sorry to report, dear Paris is burning after all”).
Without a singular bad track, Marry Me
only teeters from an uneven amount of diversity. What could have been an otherwise solid rock ballad in ‘All My Stars Aligned’ comes complete with tepid amounts of eclectic pianos and shortchanged violins. And completing the album on two jazz influenced cabaret style numbers proves that more diversity could have spiced it up just enough to end on a catchier number. Still, problems and few lyrical blunders aside (“Life is like banquet food: pleasure to peruse”), Annie Clark in St. Vincent has, surprisingly enough, put out one auspicious debut; more than just a by-the-numbers indie pop album, Annie Clark comes into her own with a debut that could very well upstage her more well-known counterpart and proves that she would fare better on her own. It makes one wonder: What else is the overcrowded Polyphonic Spree hiding from the public’s eye?