St. Vincent's 10 Best Songs: Critic's Picks

St. Vincent
Nedda Afsari

St. Vincent

It's hard to explain St. Vincent.

The multi-talented indie rocker born Annie Clark, who began as part of Sufjan Stevens' touring band, has dazzled critics with her relentless experimentation, witty lyricism and unrivaled guitar skills since her debut solo album, Marry Me, back in 2007. And her upcoming fifth studio album, Masseduction — announced through a deliberately absurd, lengthy "press conference" — promises 13 new tracks in the "first person," starting with the gorgeous releases "New York" and "Los Ageless."

Like we said, it's hard to explain St. Vincent — so we'll let her music do the talking instead. Ahead of the new album, out Oct. 13, follow along below as we rank St. Vincent's best work. And if you're not yet acquainted with the genius that is Annie Clark, consider this your introduction.

10. St. Vincent with David Byrne - "Who"

Clark has lent her artistry to a number of high-profile collaborations, from releasing a track with the Chemical Brothers to performing alongside the surviving members of Nirvana. But her collaborative album Love This Giant with Talking Heads' David Byrne stands as one of her best musical alliances to date. On the 12-track disc, lead duet "Who" stands out, crafting a push-and-pull between Byrne's rough interjections and Clark's wispy coos as funk-infused guitar strums flicker underneath. 

9. St. Vincent - "Rattlesnake"

While the funky, playful "Rattlesnake" might bring to mind biblical interpretations, Clark told Pitchfork that she based the song on a real-life encounter with a snake in the wilderness. And much like the snake Clark describes, the song slithers and rattles through a frantic, heart-racing soundscape, as Clark narrates the desert encounter in hoots and gasps. To top it all off, the grungy guitar solo (which takes over around the 2:44 mark) alone makes the St. Vincent track worthy of inclusion in our list. 

8. St. Vincent - "The Apocalypse Song"

A decade since its release, this gem off Clark's debut album Marry Me remains one of St. Vincent's most special. With swelling strings, otherworldly lyrics ("I guess you are afraid of what everyone is made of/ Time and light") and theatrical-leaning vocals that made a song about the end of the world sound romantic, "Apocalypse" gave listeners the first hint at Clark's artistic depth — not to mention a glimpse of her darker side.

7. St. Vincent - "Birth in Reverse"

Clark held nothing back in the edgy first single off her acclaimed St. Vincent — an album that would mark her first career Grammy win, for best alternative music album in 2014. The song ruminates on the mundanities of existence to the tune of buzzy electric guitar and a relentless drum kick. All in all, it's equally witty and danceable, showcasing Clark's affinity for smart, tells-it-like-it-is pop.

6. St. Vincent - "Laughing With a Mouth Full of Blood"

In contrast with its dark title, "Laughing With a Mouth Full of Blood," off 2009's Actor, is a breezy, dream-like electronic trip. Between trickling keystrokes, ascending strings and steady guitar strums, Clark croons unsettling lyrics that muse on the passage of time and the uncertainty about the future that comes with it. The result is as eerie as it is gorgeous, from the jazz-infused vocal melody to the goose bump-inducing hook: "All of my old friends aren't so friendly/ All of my old haunts are now haunting me."

5. St. Vincent - "Surgeon"

Clark is known for taking inspiration from a wide range of media — Marry Me is named after a recurring joke on Arrested Development, while her stage name refers to a hospital mentioned in a Nick Cave song. "Surgeon" has an equally interesting backstory, as Clark told Vanity Fair that the song takes its chorus ("best finest surgeon -- come come cut me open") from a line in Marilyn Monroe’s diary. Mysterious as ever, this St. Vincent song weaves velvety, sighing vocals between a whirl of warped strings and faint guitar, before lurching into a pleading, mesmerizing wail.

4. St. Vincent - "The Party"

In another stellar track off Actor, Clark recounts a hazy, late night in moments of clear vision ("my pockets hang out like two surrender flags"), flecked with seemingly unimportant details ("creaks in these chairs," "a hole in your T-shirt"), mimicking the way a similar night might play out in your memory. Mellow piano keys and ghostly, choir-like vocals add to the sense of disorientation, lulling listeners into a mesmerizing, almost hallucinatory soundscape.

3. St. Vincent - "Digital Witness"

By now, listeners might roll their eyes at another speech on the ills of social media. But with "Digital Witness," Clark manages to give the theme a refresh, satirizing the internet age in a way that doesn't sound preachy at all. The track's brassy, bright sound steps in to lighten the mood, and its slight step toward dance-pop shows the genre-crossing artist taking yet another direction and nailing it.

2. St. Vincent - "New York"

"New York," which gives us the first taste of Masseduction, is one of St. Vincent's more controlled and composed releases and also one of her most heartbreaking. Saddled by delicate piano chords, Clark chokes out heart-tugging lyrics that leave a sting: "You're the only motherfucker in this city who can handle me," she admits, though the track softens with the recurring sigh, "New York isn't New York without you, love." Clark noted that Masseduction is set to be her most personal record yet, and if the raw emotion of "New York" is any indication, the album is bound to live up to that promise.

1. St. Vincent - "Strange Mercy"

The title track off Clark's celebrated 2011 album at first sounds like a lullaby, serenading the "little one" listener with honeyed vocals and a minimal, guitar-helmed soundscape. But something sinister is brewing underneath. The song's darker themes peek out through alien-like production and enigmatic lyrics, coming to a head when the breezy melody is interrupted by Clark's sudden outburst: "If I ever meet that dirty policeman who roughed you up/ No I don’t know what." The song may not represent the "quintessential" St. Vincent sound, if such a sound can even exist for someone as experimental as Clark. But it does stand as one of her most fascinating releases yet, and our favorite.