ST. VINCENT with SCOUT NIBLETT and KATIE STELMANIS at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Friday (July 20). $10. 416-598-4226. Rating: NNNNN
It's hard to believe that marry me (Beggars Banquet), the fantastic debut LP from St. Vincent, is the work of a solo artist.
Admittedly, 23-year-old Annie Clark, the self-proclaimed "super-geek" behind St. Vincent's shimmering, serpentine pop, recruited some impressive pals for her project - Man Or Astroman man Brian Teasley helped out with percussion and production, and Bowie keyboardist Mike Garson plunked out grand piano riffs.
But the stark-ravingly talented Clark is responsible for the myriad layers and meticulous musical details that make Marry Me sound so magical.
It's not just that the girl played enough instruments to outfit a high school band, including guitar, bass, organ, vibes, Moog, dulcimer, triangle, piano, programmed drums, clavietta and more.
The trick is the way Clark manages to make her songs lurch and soar with the exhilarating energy of a huge ensemble working in harmony.
Listen to how her breezy lead vocal swerves and snakes around the multi-tracked backing chorale of mini-Annies chirping through opening track Now, Now. Get lost in the chaos of anxious, fluttering piano colliding with skronky synths, distorted garage-rock guitar and thundering drums on the curiously sexy Your Lips Are Red.
Though Clark insists her only rule while recording Marry Me was to "make whatever I wanted to hear and not worry about how to play it live," you can't help but draw a connection between the album's complex sound and the singer/songwriter's penchant for getting involved with sprawling collectives.
Clark's rock resumé includes stints not only in avant composer Glenn Branca's 100 Guitar Orchestra, but also a run as one of the 25-plus berobed members of the Polyphonic Spree and hard time touring in Sufjan Stevens's sissy symphony.
"I'm fascinated by gaggles of people getting together and doing anything," she laughs, on the road in the "North Carolina vortex" between Asheville and Chapel Hill. "I'm also fascinated by cults and the mob mentality. That's not to compare what I've done to being in a cult, but there's something to be said about 100 heartbeats gathering together to play music.
"I think that collective experience is something our culture is less in tune with than you'd find, say, in Eastern cultures. Think of gamelan music, where the point is to have tons of people simultaneously making music without a single defined leader."
As much as her previous experience has prepared Clark to will audiences into a state of communal ecstasy, it'll be interesting to see how the witty songstress manages to pull off her arch, epic tunes live, with only a couple of bandmates to assist her.
Clark doesn't seem too concerned, possibly because she stocked her armada with more geekcore gadgets on a recent trip to Asheville's Moog factory, which she describes as "an incredible chocolate mecca, like that 'If you want to view paradise' part of Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory."
She's been performing (though not professionally) since she was in diapers. Clark insists she wrote her first song at age five.
"I think it was some of my best work. At five, you watch a lot of cartoons, and there's some awesome music in those things - classical stuff as well as those great bouncy melodies," she says, dreamily humming some examples. "And I was eating a lot of Kix cereal, so those songs sounded like sugar and television. Not the band, but the actual TV! Though maybe there was a bit of Tom Verlaine in there...."
Though St. Vincent lore cites a high-school Iron Maiden cover band and a spandex-clad guitar teacher as key points in Clark's musical development, her most important influence was likely her uncle Tuck Andress.
Half of the hugely popular smooth jazz duo Tuck & Patti, Uncle Tuck's also one of the best fingerstyle guitarists in the States and gave his 15-year-old niece the summer job of a lifetime when he invited her to come on tour with him as his "road manager" (she says she was a glorified roadie).
Most notably, Andress and wife Patti Cathcart introduced Clark to real jazz music. If you listen carefully to the intricate vocal melodies on Marry Me, you might be able to hear the profound influence.
"I was always seeking," Clark continues. "At first, I gravitated towards psychedelia; I can still remember the first time I heard Jimi Hendrix. And then, around age 13, my aunt and uncle sat me down and played me A Love Supreme. It blew my mind. They put together this collection of albums, stuff by Monk and Coleman, and they really gave me a little box of heaven."
Music Clips from St. Vincent
All My Stars Aligned
Video Clips from St. Vincent
St. Vincent covering Bang Bang at SXSW 2007:
St. Vincent performing Paris Is Burning during a DUMBO session at Brooklyn's Union Hall: