REVIEW: St. Vincent – “New York”

REVIEW: St. Vincent – “New York”

by Chad Jewett

After the fluorescent, R&B-indebted synth-pop of 2014’s excellent St. Vincent, a record full of foregrounded beats and hi-definition, high-concept production choices, it comes as something of a shock to hear Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) offer something so austere, so hushed as “New York” – our first glimpse at the singer-songwriter’s forthcoming next LP. Where St. Vincent was wry and witty, casting Clark in character as a kind of heroic pop futurist/hypnotist, “New York” is almost startlingly earnest. Rather than knitting a new persona, Clark uses “New York” to tap into a arch-poetic version of melancholy so recognizable and precise that the comparisons become the transcendent likes of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You”.

Over a plush piano and the gentle, rounded thump of some cottony drum programming (and, eventually, strings and harmonies), the Oklahoma-born singer-songwriter delivers a poignant story-song about feeling alone in a city of 8 million: “New York isn’t New York without you love / So far in a few blocks to be solo.” The themes of loss are open: it’s unclear what kind of passing the song is mourning. But what is clear is the song’s understated devastation, the ways in which Clark, tying lines like “I have lost a hero / I have lost a friend / But for you darling I’d do it all again” to one of her absolute best melodies, leans into the starkness of her own absolutely airtight songwriting. In some ways, the potent emotional weight of “New York” recalls the sweepingly romantic palates of Marry Me, St. Vincent’s debut. But the song’s sheer poignancy is a milestone. Annie Clark has long been one of indie rock’s greatest communicators. Now, more than ever, we feel what she has to say too.

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