A countless number of bands can be filed under ‘art-rock’ no matter how much they deserve it, but St Vincent has made a case for her whole career as a work of performance art.
Texan Annie Clark’s new album Masseduction is quite a few degrees of separation away from 2013’s self-titled fourth album – which was already an about-turn after years of being tagged as a quirky indie artist with stints in white-robed literal cult act the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens’ backing band.
The album St Vincent was a futurist avant-pop triumph that showcased Clark’s electro-prog guitar shredding, and Clarke’s 2012 joint album Love This Giant with ex-Talking Head and art-rock supremo David Byrne seemed to open up a leftfield well of ideas.
St Vincent regularly gets compared with David Bowie, nodding to her endless drive to chip away at pop forms and wholly embody her concepts — from the striking choreography in videos like Digital Witness, to her last live tour that pitched her as a near-future demi-god with her own actual throne.
Clark’s guitar on Masseduction also nods to Bowie’s great guitarist Carlos Alomar, whose spiky abstractions have always been impossible to hum as riffs. “I don’t love it when the guitar sounds like a guitar,” she said in a recent interview.
Masseduction is a rule-bending pop album with glitchy metallic funk licks, nods to techno, glam rock and blockbuster sonics from Kendrick Lamar producer Sounwave and touches by Jack Antonoff, who’s worked with Lorde and Taylor Swift.
Her ex Cara Delevingne even turns up on guest vocals, as a little in-road for gossip journos who were scratching their head during the couple’s relationship, trying to describe the model’s kooky rock girlfriend.
Letting the music do the talking is a wrung-out cliche, but Clark played on this in the lead-up to the album release, posting Instagram clips of her answering inane interview circuit questions scripted by Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein.
Her answer to “Insert question about being a women in music”: a close-up of Clark’s painted yellow nails, with a letter on each finger, spelling ‘F-U-C-K-O-F-F-F’.
If Clarke seemed confrontational from the off on the Masseduction campaign trail, her first European live shows have been equally divisive. Echoing the furore in indie circles a few years ago when avant-garde electronic pop act The Knife turned their Shaking the Habitual album into a live modern dance performance with no actual live playing, Clark has been hit with the reductive ‘karaoke’ tag after her show in London’s Brixton Academy this week.
Previously, Clark toured with a band on electronics and live drums, but this time she’s opted for a backing track, playing solo guitar, with projections bringing the garish colour schemes of her album promos to the big screen — more installation than straight-up rock gig. And rather than bring a special guest, her support act was a screening of her directorial debut The Birthday Party.
The gig was in two acts — the first loosely being a ‘greatest hits’ set featuring Digital Witness, Rattlesnake, Marry Me, Birth In Reverse etc, while the second half was a straight run-through of the Masseduction album.
While plenty moaned about “just a massive backing track”, one punter said it was a show of “mega talent at the height of confidence” and one tweeted: “Would the dude in front of me at the St Vincent Brixton concert please wait until after the show to search for opinions about it on Twitter.”
If you’ve got a ticket for these shows, let’s see whose side you’re on.