Saturday, April 21, 2012

St. Vincent - Krokodil

(4AD, 2012)

First -- stop reading and go to your record store and buy this 7", right now. It's a Record Store Day special release and there might still be one on the shelf for you. (At the time of writing, Rhino Records in Claremont has approximately three copies left.) You won't regret it.

Now -- okay. It's time to talk about St. Vincent.

Krokodil kicks ass. It's the first official signal of a direction she's been hinting at over the last few years: loud, dark, heavy, ugly. It rules. Actor, of course, was darker than her debut, the lyrics loaded with even more foreboding and entendre and general uncanniness, the music harder and more dissonant and more messy. Strange Mercy continued the theme, cut out the baroquey flourishes, made the guitars crunchier. In a way, the arc of Clark's career has been a closing of the gap between her dark-since-day-one lyrics (go listen to Marry Me again, and pay attention this time) and the music, which has been playing catch up. But this is something altogether new.

Except that it's not. Anyone tuned in to St. Vincent as a live act has seen (or at least seen on YouTube) a slew of disastrously awesome covers of gnarly songs by gnarly artists. Most notably Big Black, Tom Waits, and The Pop Group. When she blew everyone's brains out playing "Kerosene" a year ago, the web was rife with surprise: WHAT IS THIS CUTE LITTLE PIXIE GIRL DOING PLAYING BIG BLACK? WHO KNEW SHE COULD SHRED SO MUCH? WHERE IS THIS DARKNESS COMING FROM? These were stupid reactions for these reasons: 1) She has been shredding, always. 2) As mentioned above, violence and the eerie have always been present in St. Vincent, at least/especially the lyrics. And most crucially (this point explains the others) 3) People react this way in large part because Annie Clark is female. We're not shocked because an artist who makes experimental pop music (and it is, admittedly and deceptively, poppy) is playing a Steve Albini song -- we're shocked because it's a CUTE LITTLE NICELOOKING DOE-EYED GIRL playing Steve Albini.

The first problem might have been the Marry Me album art. From that moment on, much of Clark's career has been defined within this realm -- cute, beautiful, charming girl first; virtuosic composer and facemelting guitarist second ("an adorably spunky guitar prodigy" - Boston Globe). When I saw her on Thursday, every gap in the set was filled with audience members yelling about how much they loved Annie, how beautiful she was, asking her to marry them. This happens at every St. Vincent show. But something else happened, too.

She closed with "Krokodil". Clark walked off the stage and onto the crowd, Iggy Pop style, screaming into the mic over the song's rumbling guitar line. She stood on shoulders and sung half the song, then slammed herself backwards onto the crowd's uplifted hands. She finished the rest of the song crowdsurfing, throwing herself flat onstage at its finish. I was certain it was an '80s punk cover. Maybe Bad Brains? early Fear? another Big Black song?

Nope. And today we have the indisputable proof, on shimmering red vinyl. Krokodil sounds like those bands I just said. Those bands kick ass. The B-side, "Grot", is an even heavier track, a slow, sludgy, growling antiestablishment mess. An angel chorus shines through the song's end, but how'd'ya like them lyrics? St. Vincent kicks ass.

No comments: