St. Vincent/Daddy's Home

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St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) comes out with an album alluding to it being influenced by her father's record collection (late sixties, early to mid seventies) and mentions that her Dad was recently released from prison, where he spent time after committing a stock pump and dump scheme, and the music writer Twitterverse goes nuts. An interview misfire, which seems to have happened because Clark maybe oversold the personal story behind the record and realized she was about to embark on a publicity run that would focus on things she never intended to discuss, is blown out of proportion. Reviews are posted that seem to react to ALL THAT without any real sense of what the record itself is like. We're told to expect a seventies bag of tricks being trotted out and that said bag of tricks isn't that great and that maybe this isn't such a great St. Vincent album. Which is a lot of horse pucky, as Rachel Maddow would say.

When Clark tells us that she's influenced by seventies music, the first thing to get out of your head is that there is a disco element or the kind of kitschy bubblegum pop that was part of the decade's output. The stuff she's after is much lower key, much more about the sonic element rather than the music itself. So, electric piano, layered vocals and guitars that float like clouds. Production techniques that add a certain warmth to the overall sound, a very specific aesthetic.

But this is far from a rehash as suggested by The Washington Post's Mina Tavakoli in a review that finds her 'trapped in '70s revivalism.' I think there is an ethos that is represented by the sounds and the particular group of songs that Clark is presenting here, an ethos that was well represented in the years surrounding America's Watergate scandal, but while I welcome the mixture of musical elements that is presented, it does not sound like a sepia toned trip down memory lane to my ears.

And by the way, folks, Sheena Easton's "Morning Train" which Clark appropriates for her song "My Baby Wants a Baby" was released in 1981, so it's hard to see how that contributes to being trapped in seventies revivalism. 

Clark herself talks about some of the records that influenced Daddy's Home in the video posted here from Vinyl Me Please. Pretzel Logic is kind of the end of  Dan as a band (as opposed to a studio construct), and many of the songs are uncharacteristic for what became known as the Steely Dan sound (Katie Lied, Royal Scam, Aja), but the song she specifically refers to here is "Any Major Dude," which is an unusually intimate and vulnerable song for the group. What she specifically takes from the band, who she obviously loves, is their harmonic sophistication, the technical aspects of their recording, and their ability to play musically a songs that connect with listeners. 

When I listen to Daddy's Home, I think of two records. The first is the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street, a record that sounds muddy and dirty (in its original vinyl format) yet somehow also warm and embracing like a heroin nod or an opiate buzz. Everything is a little far away and happens a little fast, but we're too stoned and muffled to do much more than smile and wave as life goes by. Yet underneath there's an attitude that life will go on, and we'll get by. Clark has said that the track "...At the Holiday Party" is her version of "You Can't Always Get What You Want." With its surging backup vocals and horns it reminds me of the release that "Shine A Light" provides on Exile.

The other record this reminds me of is Sheryl Crow's eponymous second album, which was released in 1996. From the moment it faded in on some feedback guitar before exploding into a sluggish groove powered by electric piano, I knew that I would love the album. I had a similar reaction to Daddy's Home, and that has not abated through multiple listens. Crow played most of the instruments and produced the followup to Tuesday Night Music Club herself because she wanted the record to sound a specific way, and that wasn't the way her fans and record company expected. But the record established Crow as a major league rock star, and I'd argue that Daddy's Home does the same for St. Vincent. 

There is another element to Daddy's Home that is ever present on the record, and it's not the specter of her father, but rather of the world he inhabited: the city of New York, the dirty city that Lou Reed said was 'something like a circus or a sewer.' It's all here--the rats, the garbage, the downward spiral that is the world, not of the cocaine cracked Wall Streeters or Studio 54 habitues, but of downers and Quaaludes, all bumping up against socialites, upwardly mobile housewives, graffiti artists, and the musicians who roam the city. In its majesty it brings to mind Lou Reed's song "Tell It To Your Heart," a love letter to New York City from his Mistrial album.

In the end it's largely about what this music makes you think of--if the reference points seem good to you--that determine whether you will like it or not. I think that Daddy's Home is a great album that will mark a turning point for St. Vincent. The intro to "Live the Dream" is very evocative of Pink Floyd's "Us and Them," but why is that a problem? Had she sampled the Floyd track and used it as a layer in her song, I don't think people would care, but because she bothered to play something that is close, that evokes a similar ambiance, but is NOT THE SAME. I disagree with reviews that treat her work here as 'pastiche,' which seems insulting when those same reviewers don't always have an adequate depth of understanding regarding these records or this era of music. 

Getting back to those other albums that Clark says have influenced her in writing and performing Daddy's Home--they are all there for technical reasons. Stevie Wonder is there for the analog synth sounds. Sly & the Family Stone and War are there for their respective grooves, Yes is there for the sound and instrumental technique. Annie refers to herself as a big nerd, and it's true--she's there for the sounds, the studio stuff, the microphone placement, the guitar effects, all of that sonic stuff just as much as the song itself. I mean, St. Vincent has to be Bowie and Eno, the musician and the techno guy, and still she comes  up with a record as carefully conceived and well executed as Daddy's Home

And St. Vincent is more vulnerable here, like her vinyl heroes. The idea behind "...At the Holiday Party," a moment when you see through someone's happy facade to the emptiness and sadness they don't show anyone, is very gentle with its subject. And there's "Candy Darling," a song some critics have taken issue with because name-dropping a Warhol superstar is apparently gauche in this day and age. It's a dreamy song about a dream vision of Candy waiting  for the train; the singer wants to lay 'red bodega roses' at her feet. It's a very tender song for Clark, and probably a very honest one. 

Daddy's Home is on my favorite records list for 2021 thus far, and I think it is a record that will seem more and more resonant with each passing year from its release date. 

Bonus Tracks

Annie Zaleski's 331/3 book on Duran Duran dropped this past week, and I recommend it highly. Zaleski is an excellent music writer who has written extensively about a variety of '80s groups as well as popular music in general. Her book is well researched and organized, and you can find out pretty much anything you want to know about the Rio album or the band during that period. I'm still not sold on the idea that DD was one of the great bands of the era, but Annie's obvious enthusiasm for the group is infectious, and her research and interview skills are impeccable. It's a must read from me.

Frank Zappa's last U.S. concert, recorded in June of 1988, will be released as a live album. Zappa ’88 was produced by Ahmet Zappa alongside Joe Travers, the Zappa Vaultmeister. Last year, the recordings were newly mixed by Craig Parker Adams from the 48-track digital master tapes. It’s available in a double CD or quadruple LP package.

Recordings from the very first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1970, as well as other lost recordings, have surfaced, ending  a twenty year search for the tapes, which have been rumored to exist for some time.

Genre is increasingly seen as something that is unnecessary and unrelated to the way that we create and consume art, though it remains important to the ways that we market it. So even as genre loses sway, it continues to organize our cultural marketplace—and we continue to glue on the wrong labels. Petrusich mentioned Justin Bieber’s distress to have his R&B album nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album—which, sure, was a more prestigious category, but the album was R&B.

CD quality music streaming may be on the verge of becoming mainstream. Up until recently, high-fidelity music streaming was pretty much a premium offering that appealed mainly to audiophiles willing to pay more for the privilege. But with Spotify slated to roll out a Hi-Fi tier and Apple Music rumored to follow suit, CD-quality streaming could be poised to go mainstream, particularly if listeners don’t have to pay extra for it.

Leaving you this week with Paul & Linda McCartney's official video for the song "Heart of the Country" from the album RAM, which has turned fifty this week. 

Wishing everyone the best. See you soon!

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