As a musical adjective, “timeless” can mean two things. The popular usage denotes classicism. Timeless music fits in and is accepted everywhere. It can also be translated literally, meaning without time, aka without rhythm. Well, you get both meanings of the word on St. Vincent’s new self-titled record. You get all the timeless funk, and all the timeless funk. It fits in a lot of musical categories and circles of acceptance, even when Annie Clark is divulging into an a-rhythmic maelstrom of guitar wailings.
Now somewhat famously described by Clark herself as “a party record you can play at a funeral,” St. Vincent’s new eponymous record is just as weird as that description. Weird instrumentally, weird lyrically. Weird on all levels. But pugs, Picasso, and the artist formerly known as Prince can testify, weirdness has a way of working to one’s advantage. That’s precisely the case with St. Vincent’s new work. Opening with a crunchy, farty, somewhat atonal line of blippy synths on “Rattlesnake,” the album establishes itself as one that laughs in the face of pop music convention. And then Clark starts to sing. Immediately it becomes evident that her time spent with David Byrne several years ago has had a profound effect on her music, which has been refurnished with Byrnish vocal melodies and idiosyncrasies, such a little hops and skips that are reminiscent of the Talking Heads’ frontman. Not only is Clark now rocking the David Byrne style, but this album also contains what might be an homage to him as well: a song called “Psychopath,” which is not too far from the Talking Heads’ iconic “Psycho Killer,” both in title and lyrical scope.
Like much good art, St. Vincent’s music is duplicitous and multifaceted. On the surface, you get the funk, the punk, the quirks, and the irreverence. You get Clark violently punching the neck-joint of her guitar on stage and basking in waves of brain-freezing feedback. But below all that is a lyricist with a sharp pen. The album’s first single “Digital Witness” seems to be a reaction to the digital takeover of our modern lives, and that there is no more privacy. It would not be too far a stretch to imagine Clark wearing a tin foil hat and doing NPR interviews about going off the grid. Even when ambiguous, Clark’s lyrics are interesting, engaging, and a real artistic tease. You don’t get everything at face value with St. Vincent, which is precisely why the album succeeds in being the funeral-applicable party record. On top it’s weird and melodically triumphant like life itself, but beneath the surface it’s contemplative and haunting, like death. Perhaps this particular juxtaposition between quirky and fun instrumentation and investigative lyricism is not Clark’s party-death intent, but it certainly rises to her own assessment of the record.
One of the great successes of St. Vincent’s new record is that it brings weird and cool together. Often times experimental, or “weird” music gets unfairly slotted under lo-fi because it lacks a certain well-produced sound, but St. Vincent experiments and sounds professional and crisp. This well crafted experimentation is precisely what makes St. Vincent a popular group without immediately being deemed a pop act. Their music is like a well groomed honey badger (who, as the internet meme scene knows, does not care about your opinion) wearing a tuxedo. And for this reason — timelessness, irreverence, innovation, and real cool-factor — hats off to St. Vincent.