No settling down for St. Vincent

Annie Clark’s winsome debut under the moniker St. Vincent proves she’s one of indie rock’s most matronly musicians

Sara Nicole Miller

Annie Clark might just be the paper doll in an art-rock menagerie of voodoo dragons and lawn gnomes, but for such a young musical tart, she flaunts a cloak of many colors. In the dawn of her musical career, Clark has already toured as a guitarist for folksy cult wonderboy Sufjan Stevens and performed with psychotropic pop outfit The Polyphonic Spree. And she’s just warming up.

St. Vincent

ALBUM: Marry Me
LABEL: Beggars Banquet Records

With such a diverse dance card in her back pocket, it’s no wonder that, come time to venture down the yellow brick road as a solo artist, Clark’s ended up somewhere way over the rainbow.

On her debut album “Marry Me,” where she records under the tag St. Vincent, her wild oscillation between Technicolor-tinged musical hopscotch and oddball balladry tend to reflect a tad of her own musical and existential ambivalence. Perhaps Clark, like her music, suffers from the Tinkerbell complex: a pretty girl with a need to have her art taken seriously.

Clark’s poured her soul into the album – from the songwriting and production to her seasoned manipulation of over 13 instruments, including the dulcimer, vibraphone and triangle.

In “Now, Now,” she calls up a few choice back-up singers who chime out with all the briny, big-lunged taunt of a Cape Cod girl’s choir. Clark’s swoony, syrupy voice fluctuates from amid the pitter-patter of a snare beat and tickled church bells as she flings infantile taunts of “you don’t mean that, say you’re sorry” onto the tonal scale. The end of the song, disrupting the playground chatter, splatters the guts of an exploding electric guitar onto the reprise. So art rock, but so delicious.

In “All My Stars Aligned,” she swoons – in that vintage, Rogers and Hammerstein style of golden leading ladies – about all of her superstitious neuroses, crooning in swooping soprano, “I do a dance to make the rain come/ smile to keep the sky from falling/ down down down down.” Particles of Judy Garland’s sugary tone sliding take on a life of their own, albeit from the depths of Clark’s own voice box.

Some of the tracks, however, sound like she stumbled onto an amateur 4-track owner’s MySpace page. “Your Lips Are Red” finds Clark barking out her weirder observations (“my face is drawn on with this number 2 pencil” finds its way into the list of lofty exclamations), foregrounding an industrial orangutan-run orchestra of steel clangs and whiny violin. It sounds like a cheesy, Luis Bunuel repro theme song to “Mars Attacks.” So art rock, and so weird.

But where Clark misses the mark on synthesis and musical coherence, she makes up for it with her oddball forays into jewelbox jazz and experimental wanderlust. Yes, at times it feels odd, like tangoing with a Lollipop Guild munchkin.

Clark’s definitely a diamond in the rough, but she’s bringing all the pleasantries of art rock to a smitten fan base. Clark might be the new kid on the block, but she’ll be just fine: She’s made a lot of new friends.