She's been a part of the Polyphonic Spree's twee orchestra, toured with Sufjan Stevens, and many other bands as well, ranging from the Arcade Fire to Xiu Xiu.
So it wasn't entirely clear what style Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) would embrace in her solo debut, "Marry Me." But she does a brilliant job with what she does choose -- a swirling, multifaceted brand of lush indiepop, crammed with quirky instrumentals and charmingly witty little lyrics. It's absolutely stunning.
It kicks off with "Now Now," a catchy little dulcimer-wrapped tune. Clark sings that she's not a carpet, an atomic bomb, a dog, and that: "You don't mean that say you're sorry/You don't mean that I'll make you sorry..." as the strings and drums rev up. She follows it up with the whimsical "Jesus Saves, I Spend," a distinctively quirky pop tune punctuated by babyish noises, smooth keyboard and solid powerpop riffs.
But the album's tone changes drastically with "Your Lips Are Red," which the Dresden Dolls wouldn't be ashamed off -- tortured violins, plunking cabaret piano, erotic overtones and "cities black from all the ashes in downtown." After that, the album slips down into gentler, more lush pop tunes -- quirky romantic ballads, rainy piano tunes, swirling pop epics, and ends with a couple of springtime anti-folk songs.
The best song: "Paris is Burning," a swaying Weimar-styled mass of horns, synth and strings -- it seems to be from the POV of a slain WWII soldier. "We are waiting on a telegram to give us news of the fall/I am sorry to report dear Paris is burning after all/We have taken to the streets in open rejoice revolting/We are dancing a black waltz, fair Paris is burning after all..."
If you listen carefully, you can hear a few hints of various musical influences in "Marry Me" -- moments where St. Vincent's musical experience is briefly glimpsed. But most of the time, she sounds like Regina Spektor and Feist by way of Arcade Fire -- she has a unique blend of quirky, offbeat instrumentation and lyrics, and lush melodies infused with bossa nova, folk, pop, and a bit of rock.
Of course, that quirkiness could have rendered this album totally twee and irritating. But Clark does a brilliant job wringing catchy melodies studded with odd moments (is she throttling that guitar?), and even though the second half is far quieter and less experimental than the first, it's still a magnificent little experience.
St. Vincent -- who played virtually everything on here -- somehow softens the sputtery bass, drums and electric guitars with a web of gauzy dulcimer, handclaps, synth, xylophone, trickling piano, and occasionally a shifting wall of strings. So much is layered into this that they should sound dense, but instead they sound ethereal and effortless.
And Clark's sweetly powerful voice does the music justice, flipping from joyously wicked to sweetly romantic in a moment, and backing herself with an oddball chorale -- sometimes she sounds like a child, an angel, or a bunch of radio-broadcast imps. And her brilliant songs have their bleak moments -- like the Shakespearean "come sit right here and sleep/while I slip poison in your ear" -- but more often, her focus is on love's sorrows and joys. Mostly joys. "Collect the love that I've been given/build a nest for us to sleep in here..." she sings meditatively.
"Marry Me" is the pop debut that most singers can only dream of -- exquisitely beautiful, alluring and quirky. An absolute gem from start to finish.