soundstreamsunday #96: “Huey Newton” by St. Vincent

stvincent1It’s no real surprise that “Huey Newton” is not about Huey Newton but rather the rabbit holes of internet searches and the semi-free association that can result.  St. Vincent’s self-titled fourth album (2014) is full of these tricky ‘scapes, it’s second single, “Digital Witness,” a frugging Beefheartian horn romp through the minefield of social media and probably the catchiest song you’ll ever hear about our accursed blessings.  Annie Clark’s musical and lyrical smarts match the task of knotty commentary, so even as she obliquely declaims she does so riding a wicked beat, multiplexing fluid melodies with giant, nasty riffs shooting distorto-style from her guitar in subtle nods to Hendrix, Fripp/Belew, and other noise monsters of yore.  She is a musical polymath, a pop loving prog rocker with, importantly, a penchant for the editorial process, and as such working with hitmaker Jack Antonoff on her latest record, Masseduction (2017), is a supreme act of sincere irony.  It is a gauntlet waiting to be picked up by the Taylor Swifts of this world, for certainly St. Vincent has no need for the pop audience but, eventually, many of today’s iHeart radio stars may yearn for the legacy Annie Clark has already built.

HueyNewtonLyrics

“Huey Newton” is part cool-down dance nugget and part ZZ Top riff rocker, a product of an Ambien fever dream, where synthesizers are really guitars and basses are really synthesizers.  It all comes off sounding as if it and the entirety of the album was the most exciting of adventures to undertake, a feeling reinforced by a 2014 interview Clark did with Marc Maron, where she acknowledges her guitar skills but seems grateful that she’s “not so masterful that the magic is gone.”  Imagine, that there should be magic and not just mastery, allowing in the dark wilds….  In producer and fellow Texan John Congleton, who also produced Strange Mercy (2011), St. Vincent has an able partner (the ZZ Top reference is for real — Congleton’s a big Top fan).

Two performances of the song here: from the album and from an appearance on Letterman in the wake of the record’s release.  Both are devastating in their way, and recall for me, more than anything, early Roxy Music, with its skewering adoration of pop, the best kind of love letter to the muse.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

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