If you were lucky enough to catch Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) during her recent “Love This Giant” tour last year with David Byrne, this new track, “Digital Witness”, may have a familiar ring. Yes, some of the big brassy sound (paired off with funky arcade disco sound) may remind you of their collaborative work — but that’s not the only thing. At the beginning of the show I attended, the first thing the audience heard from the pair was an announcement made by Byrne before the two appeared on stage. Bryne spoke into a backstage microphone, playfully, but seriously, telling the crowd that it was fine to take photos and video of the performance, but that at some point they may want to watch the show with “their own eyes”.
In other words, at some point, digital media has become an inextricable part of the concert experience. And anyone who has been to a recent concert has certainly seen this phenomena, thousands of electronic devices in the air, capturing each moment in all their low-resolution glory. Byrne was making the point that while modernity is a marvelous thing, the digitalization of every life experience seems like overkill.
On this new St. Vincent track, Clark takes that concept a step further and makes music of it, much like Arcade Fire waxing about the self-reflective nature of digitalization in the song “Reflektor”. (Think “Big K”, as in Kafka’s “Amerika” — the “k” standing in for some twisted version of the original.) “Digital Witness” aims at the strange cultural notion that things just don’t happen unless they’re captured by a media device. And just as in the verses of “Reflektor” (“We fell in love / Alone on a stage / In the reflective age”), St. Vincent’s lyrics find a Narcissus-like self-obsession in the need to create this odd kind of reality mirrored again and again via inanimate devices: “People turn the TV on / It looks just like a window / What’s the point of even sleeping? / If I can’t show it, you can’t see me / What’s the point of even doing anything? … / Watch me jump off the London Bridge.”
It’s wonderful stuff really, and a bit brave, considering this is ground that in some way points a finger at culture itself, and by extension, the artist’s own fans. Rest assured, it’s art here, rather than self-seriousness. The music and style speak to that, through wildly infectious rhythms, apropos distortion and lightly tossed verses like, “This is no time for confessin'” and Clark’s response to her own chorus with the dead-pan delivered “yeah.”
St. Vincent’s self-titled record is set for release on February 24th/25th via Loma Vista/Caroline International. Pre-order the album at her website here. Note: All lyrics above are unofficial. — David D. Robbins Jr.