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Archive for the ‘St. Vincent’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-4AD Sessions (2011).

When I was looking up something about St. Vincent I happened upon this 4AD Sessions recording.  Eviddently the audio was included on reissue of Strange Mercy, but there was also this video available.

She plays four songs from Mercy in an interestingly configured and lit studio (the visuals are so very 4AD).

Shot at Shangri-La Studios in the heart of the Brooklyn film and photography district in Greenpoint, the session was recorded with Annie’s new band, Daniel Mintseris (keys), Toko Yasuda (moog) and Matthew Johnson (drums). Given St Vincent’s transgression from the underground to the pop spotlight over the course of three studio albums, it’s somewhat fitting that Shangri-La host the session having initially earned its name as a secret spot known only through word of mouth.

The first song is “Chloe in the Afternoon” which opens with synths and Annie’s voice.  It’s interesting that her latest album seems so un-guitar heavy, when in fact, the guitar never really dominates her songs.  Except when it bursts forth at choice moments.  Like on this one, when it is fuzzed almost beyond recognition.  The drums are sharp raps as Annie sings her vocals.  Then comes the almost angelic chorus “Chloe in the Afternoon.”  I love watching (and hearing) her smile as she sings it and the delicate guitar (almost inaudible) that accompanies it.  The song end with a rocking guitar solo (this is before she had her signature guitar made.

“Surgeon” opens wt synths and what sounds very unlike a guitar (the video confirms that a guitar is at least playing along with the synths).  It’s a quieter song.  When the guitar formally comes in it’s my favorite St. Vincent guitar part–up and down sliding chords followed by a nifty little riff.  It all comes and goes so fast and it’s awesome.  I love seeing her play it “live.”  After a couple of instrumental breaks and a repeat of the chorus, Annie takes a wild echoing guitar solo–she totally wails and the keys create a wavery bass line.

“Strange Mercy” is slower with a pretty, sympathetic melody.  The middle section features a neat guitar solo (oddly processed but cool-sounding).  The middle section with the great sounding guitars and verses about “dirty policemen” just confirms the greatness of this song.

“Year of the Tiger” is a smoother song which also ends the album.  It’s got terrific buzzy guitars throughout.  I this love the way she sings the “Oh America, can I owe you one” with particular venom.

St. Vincent’s music often sounds like a studio concoction, so I love seeing her duplicate it live.  And I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Austin City Limits show she recorded.

[READ: October 10, 2017] “Likes”

This is the story of a man trying to communicate with his 12-year-old daughter.

She has an Instagram account and he is trying to learn more about her by following it–since she’s not very talkative.

But her account is a puzzle–an ice cream cone, a shop window, the dog, an earlobe.

He had been spending a bit more time with her lately because she had been going to physical therapy.  He felt responsible for her inheriting his bad joints–runner’s knees, Achilles Tendonitis.  The therapist was very friendly and Ivy seemed to be open with her although he could never quite hear what they were talking about. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-Masseduction (2018).

St. Vincent’s latest album seemed like a radical departure for Annie Clark.  It seemed to be all synth–a transgression from her guitar prowess.  But in fact it was a continuation of the sound that Clark generates with her guitar.

Her albums have always used synths.  And her albums have always used effects on her guitars to create different sounds.  They have just moved further along on this album.

“Hang on Me” opens the disc with drums and sound effects.  The guitar comes in but it sounds like synths (like most of the album).  Her voice is up front  (It would have been very cool if it sounded like she was whispering in your ears).  The song builds with more and more sounds.  The processed guitar still sounds nothing like a guitar but you can tell from the way it is played that it is a guitar–which is pretty cool.

“Pills” is almost all dance–lots of drums and synth sounds (which may be guitar, who can tell).  It’s the chorus, (the repeated pills pills pills) that really grabs you.  The guitars that come through have a very Prince-like feel (and the sexual connection–pills to fuck) even when the roaring fuzzed out guitar solo comes blasting through it’s not unlike something Prince would have done.  When the second part of the song comes in–absolutely quiet compared to the chaos that came before (S. assumed it was a different song) it has a beautiful melody and really showcases Annie’s voice nicely.  The two parts are so very different and yet both are really catchy in their own way.

“Masseduction” is the most poppy song on the record (and probably of her career).  It starts again with drums and Annie’s whispered vocal (again mixing her right in your ears would have been very intense).  Then comes there’s the big chorus of echoed vocals singing “mass seduction” with roaring guitars underscoring everything (even though this album feels very un-guitar there are noisy guitars galore on it, they’re just buried underneath everything).

Chanted vocals and programmed synth open up the fast-moving “Sugarboy.”  I love that the riff from “Los Ageless” is presented her in much faster and more staccato and mechanical way.  This song has a great, catchy chorus.

“Los Ageless” was the second single off the album and the dancey beat and synth sounds were quite a shock when the song came out.  For this one, her voice is mixed right in the middle of your head, which is very cool.  But it’s the “how can anybody have you” part that is so incredibly catchy and wonderful.  There’s not a lot of guitar on this song until the third verse in which all the synths drop out and you get a nasty guitar playing behind the verse–once again so inorganic but so interesting.

“Happy Birthday Johnny” is a beautiful piano ballad that showcases a great melody and lovely vocal from Annie.

“Savior” features a slinky guitar line with bits of wah-wah on it (slighty porn-y to be sure, especially given the topic of the song).  The bridge picks things up and with each subsequent verse more and more is added (backing vocals, big drums and sound effects).  It’s when the song gets to the third part, the ‘pleeeease” that it totally soars.

“New York” is another piano song, this one with more dance beats in it and the rather graphic “you’re the only motherfucker in the city who can stand me” for a chorus (odd choice for first single).  The bridge “I have lost a hero” just soars out of the piano section in a very cool way–the juxtaposition is outstanding.

After the quite ending of New York the noise and electronica of “Fear the Future” comes as quite a shock.  It’s practically a wall of noise before and abrupt ending

“Young Lover” is quieter and sounds a lot more like early St. Vincent songs.  The music is spare–thumping drums and washes of music.  But that first chorus grows very loud–crashing electronic drums and soaring vocals.  The amazing part comes toward the end as Annie hits some incredibly high notes and then caps it off with a high note that gives me chills every time I hear it.  The fact that she duplicated it live was just staggering.

“Dancing with a Ghost” is 46 seconds of waves of synths (or guitars) that I never quite realized was its own song.  It almost segues into “Slow Disco” which is a quiet song with strings and Annie singing.  When the harmony vocals come in it builds the song nicely.   Then someone (Annie?) sings a recurring motif of “don’t it beat a slow dance to death.”  It’s my least favorite song on the album and the one she has now made two (slower) remixes of.

That feels like it should end the album, but there is one more song, the dramatic “Smoking Section.”  With a husky voice Annie sings of getting stomped out and screaming “let it happen, let it happen, let it happen.”  The strings build dramatically until a loud three note riff introduces the second part of the song.

This album is pretty polarizing, even though it is St. Vincent through and through.

[READ: October 3, 2018] “The Rise and Rise of Annie Clark”

The previous story that I read by John L’Heureux was also about the Catholic church.  That one was the story of Jesuit Priesthood, circa 1954, and a man trying to join.

This one is also based around the Catholic church circa 1950.  The subject is very different, but with the same questioning attitude.

Annie Clark is a middle-aged woman in the 1950’s .  I’m unclear where this is set.  At first I thought France, but that is unlikely. so somewhere in the States, but I have no idea where.

Since the end of WWII, Annie knows that women were the real winners–women are taking charge of their lives.

But Annie is Catholic and must proceed slowly. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-“Savior” (2018).

St. Vincent has morphed from guitar goddess (with her own signature guitar) into a  synthy pop goddess (of sorts).  Her last album Masseduction sounded like it eschewed guitars altogether (it didn’t, exactly).  When I saw her live, she played guitar on every track (and was the only performer which was pretty awesome) but it rarely sounded like a guitar (which was cool in its own way).

So Masseduction was quite different from her earlier guitar-heavy albums.  It even featured a song based around the piano.

Now Annie Clark has reissued Masseduction as Masseducation (which is how I and many other people read the other title originally) and has more or less traded in the production and synth for piano.

The new version “pairs Clark’s resonant voice with Doveman’s Thomas Bartlett on piano. Intimate and focused, the reworked songs were performed and recorded in two days at Manhattan’s Electric Lady Studio. A handwritten letter by Clark sets the scene for this process: “Thomas and I faced each other — him, hunched over a grand piano, me, curled on a couch.”” [from NPR].

One thing that Masseduction showed was how fantastic Annie Clark’s voice is.  I’m not sure if I never noticed that her voice was great because I was focused on so much else or if she didn’t showcase it as much, but she hit and held notes that were really quite impressive.

“Savior” originally featured a slinky guitar line with bits of wah-wah on it (slightly porn-y to be sure, especially given the topic of the song).  The bridge picked things up and with each subsequent verse more and more was added (backing vocals, big drums and sound effects).  When the song reached the third part, the “pleeeease” it totally soared.

This new version opens with a muted piano, rather than slinky guitar.  The music seems to accentuate the words (which seem much more kinky in this version).  The song doesn’t build like the previous one did, although the switch from muted piano to deep bass notes is surprisingly effective.  The “pleeeease” section totally subverts the previous version.  Rather than getting big and powerful, the song actually grows quieter, more pleading.  It’s a cool twist on the same music/words.  And I like that you can hear the spoken words at the end of the song (which you really couldn’t on the original release).

This stripping of the production really makes you focus on the words (which were sometimes lost on the full album).  Annie must be pretty pleased with the ones she wrote.  I’m curious what this will do to the rest of the album.

[READ: January 7, 2017] “Vespa”

This is the story about Mark and his Vespa.  He loved his Vespa.  It allowed him a lot of freedom yes, but he also loved the look of it.

It also took him to see his girlfriend, Yasmin, in Manchester.  They were in love (and were even engaged on Facebook!).  He parked the Vespa at her school where it would be safe–even though she didn’t go to school on Fridays.

She told him to take a bus to an empty house where they could make love.  She had been there before.  (I like the way that detail was just tossed in there).

Later that day, when they went back to the school, his Vespa was gone. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FEDE GRAÑA Y LOS PROLIJOS-“”El Gigante” (Field Recordings, May 5, 2015).

Fede Graña Y Los Prolijos are from Uruguay and play a stomping bluegrass (which is why this is called A Bluegrass Ditty By Way Of Uruguay).

Every year SXSW hosts a night of music from Uruguay.

Nestled between Argentina and Brazil way down on the southern tip of the Americas, Uruguay spends way too much time in the shadows of its better-known neighbors.

But a closer listen reveals something for just about everyone: rockeros, sure, but also fans of hip-hop, folk-influenced downtempo music and singer-songwriters with distinct voices and stories to tell.

With an electric bass and a small hand drum laying down the thumping rhythm and an accordion adding to the flair, the fascination comes from the very American-sounding guitar solo that introduces the song.  But once you comfortably know that this is bluegrass, it’s even more surprising when they all sing in Spanish.

After a couple of verses, there’s an accordion solo followed by an acoustic guitar solo (from the other guitarist).  There’s a slow down that seems like an ending but it’s a fake out as the song takes off once more,.

There’s some great guitar fingerwork by he singer as the song races to an end

What a fun song, although I never heard the word “Gigante” once..

[READ: January 5, 2017] “Chicken Hill”

Joy Williams’ stories never do what I expect them to do–for better and worse.

This is the story of Ruth.

It begins with Ruth going to a memorial fundrasier at the Barbed Wire, a biker bar “in a somewhat alarming part of town.”  She had donated $30 to the memorial of a boy, Hector, who has been run over by a sheriff’s deputy.

Ruth was pleased that the father was suing the sheriff–then she found out it was the boy’s fault–he had run in to traffic against the light.

The transition is a strange one: “It was probably just a coincidence that a child appeared not long after that.”  This was a girl who lived in a house nearby.  She was the daughter of a doctor and rather than introducing herself she said to Ruth “I would like to draw you in plein air.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-Tiny Desk Concert #696 (January 22, 2018).

The new St. Vincent album is not very guitar heavy.  There are guitars but they are often very processed soundings.  And there’s very little in the way of shredding.

On tour, she has been playing acoustic guitar versions of some of the songs for VIP guests.  I was curious what kind of Tiny Desk Concert St. Vincent would do.  And I am delighted that she chose to do the acoustic show here (even though a set of old and new stuff with just her and the acoustic guitar would be amazing).  As Bob says:

Whenever I imagined a St. Vincent Tiny Desk Concert, it was always going to be loud and electric.

I recently saw St. Vincent live, but getting to see her up this close, it’s really amazing just how long her fingers are.  This lets her play some really interesting chords.  So here she is with just her acoustic guitar, playing three songs from MASSEDUCTION.

Annie Clark stood at my desk, in front of a few hundred-plus NPR employees and close friends, and hit us hard with her un-amplified voice, unplugged guitar, her checkered wardrobe and most importantly, her songs.

“New York” is wonderful to hear on guitar as the album version is all piano.  I love the way the simple back and forth chords of the chorus are replaced by the really interesting and complex chords of the verses.

“Los Ageless” sounds so very different in this version.  Rather than the full on dance version, this opens with a plucked guitar chord structure and some cool fast guitar solo-ettes.  It is remarkably different from the slick production of the album.  The chorus which is powerful and wonderful on record is slowed down and almost quiet here–a very different take on this great song.  One that really shows off her voice, too.

After telling the NPR staff that she listened every day, she says she has one question “She heard that underneath her sensible button down Terry Gross has full sleeves of tattoos.”  Bob: “All true.”  “That’s what I figured.  Terry goes hard.”

“Slow Disco” ends the album and it too is very different here.  It really showcases her voice, especially at the end.  The acoustic versions don’t really show off her mad guitar skills, but they do show some interesting chords structures.  I wonder if after her next album, if she returns to a more guitar-based sound, if these songs will get a new treatment live.

It’s fascinating to see her swaying as she plays these songs because live she is stock still, unmoving and statuesque,  Bob also notes:

This stripped-down set is more about emotion, more about a one-on-one connection, and that’s the bravery. To come out from the lights and the effects, leaving the laptop sync behind, pulled me into these songs in ways both the album and her live show hadn’t.

You can hear similar acoustic versions (as well as an interview) from World Cafe.

[READ: January 9, 2017] “Texas”

This is the first story I’ve read by Gates.  It is about Garver, a sixty-three year old painter and how his life has changed since his wife left him to move to Italy.

His children wished he’d had a better attitude, but who were they to talk.  William, his oldest, had actually graduated, with a degree in marketing.  Emma had gotten pregnant in her sophomore year and was a stay at home mom in Texas.  Marianne had finally straightened out enough to hold down a job at an animal shelter near Burlington.

He still lived in the huge house that his children grew up in.  He still had payments on it.  And he was too young for social security.  But he needed money.  So he decided to rent out the big house and live full-time in his studio out building–which was four-season ready and even had a mini fridge that he installed when he and his wife stopped speaking. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 28, 2017] St. Vincent

Two summers ago St. Vincent co-headlined XPNFest.  Our seats weren’t great but her show was spectacular.  I was bummed that it was a co-headline, because she played five fewer songs than for her other shows, but it was still incredible.  I knew I wanted to see her again.

And then she went into a kind of hiatus–she appeared doing a few things, but no tour.  And  then she came back with a whole new campaign–fear the future.  Gone was the curly white hair and in was a whole new look.  It was very day-glo and very sexy.  Right down to the album cover of a woman’s ass bent over with her front end shoved through a wall.

It was a stunning visual campaign, with Annie doing filmed “interviews” while the “crew” of women walked around with their breasts and asses cut out of their body suits.  There was clearly a message, although I’m not exactly sure what the message was.  Or is.

And then I learned that her new tour was going to be just her on her (newly designed) guitar with backing tracks.  While I didn’t doubt her ability to play to a backing track (I’ve seen her play amazingly with no backing at all), I was afraid it would lose some of the looseness that I’ve loved about her shows.   (more…)

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[ATTENDED: June 1, 2017] Torres

I really liked Torres’ album Sprinter and Bob Boilen had said that she was  great live performer so I was pretty excited to see her live on this tour.  I wasn’t exactly expecting a lot of power because while her music has a distinct intensity it never seemed like it would be huge.  But man, Mackenzie Scott has an amazing presence, and her band was fantastic.

The biggest surprise for me came as the show began because Torres has new music out and it’s quite different from the songs I know.  It’s much more synth heavy, with a very different vibe.  The songs on Sprinter bubble under with intensity, but the new ones have a kind of sinister keyboard layer over the top.  She also sings a bit more quietly on these songs.

What was interesting was that the newer music allowed her to do some interesting things on stage that reminded me of the choreography of St. Vincent (albeit much more subtle).  She made small movements with her hips or shoulders.  She really absorbed the attention of the audience.  I loved that at times she just stood with her back to us, shadowed by lights as she waited for the songs to build.

I guess she played around nine song (there’s no setlist online).  She played a couple of new songs and then a bunch off of Sprinter.

She didn’t speak much but she did say at one point I’m pleased to be here in front of you as Torres.  For this music is not all about her.

Guitarist Cameron Kapoor stood in the back playing all kinds of great noises.  While it was hard to take my eyes off of Scott, Kapoor was great to watch–he had a bank of keyboards and effects and his squealed and squalled some noises all the way through.  Sometimes loud, sometimes just quiet textures, he really gave the songs a great sonic landscape.   Erin Manning played keyboards and sang backing vocals.  Her sound seemed much more notable on the new songs where Scot played only solos.

Drummer Dominic Cipolla play a mix of electronic and analog drums that perfectly fleshed out the rest of the songs.

As far as the setlist, there were two new songs including her new single “Skim.”  I really enjoyed the sounds she squeezed out of her guitar between verses.

Then there was the dramatic change in sound for Sprinter’sNew Skin,” and that’s when it really kicked in just how powerful she was live.  Her new songs may not employ the same techniques, but she hasn’t lost any of that intensity.  And she plays her guitar sparingly but effectively: (I love watching her fingers in the dim light here).

Her deep powerful (sometimes vulnerable) voice really came out.  By the time she got to “Sprinter,” the intensity level was through the roof.

But the song I’d been waiting to see was “Strange Hellos.”  This is the first song I’d heard by her and I loved the way it started so small and simple and turned into a huge raging song.  And live it’s even better.

She has the audacity to slow down that first section even further.  It’s amazing to hear the lengthy pauses between notes as she just stares at the audience daring us to interrupt.   And then the song proper starts and it rocks.  Her voice is strained to breaking as she sings along.  But it’s the end of the song–and the show–that was utterly memorable.

The show was great and I’ve just gotten a ticket for her show a the more intimate Boot & Saddle later his year so I can get another full dose of her intensity.

(more…)

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