St. Vincent: “Surgeon” (Strange Mercy, 2011)

My favorite song on Strange Mercy is actually “Cruel,” which I wrote about for Pitchfork’s year-end tracks list (it came in at #18). But “Surgeon” is a very close second.

The abrupt transition one minute in is one of my favorite single moments in music from the year. The way it drops from the dreamy, floating heights of the opening verse into that knotty chorus very effectively underlines the weirdly desirous “best find a surgeon/come cut me open” refrain.

There’s not much to the lyrics, really. Something about some time in hospital, and I love the image in the final verse: “I tell the mailman, ‘Never you mind, I’ll sift through the piles.”

But the thing that most puts this song over the top for me has nothing to do with that. It’s the amazing guitar solo. Annie Clark is one of the most original and inventive guitarists making records today. I can point to some of the people she’s learned from—Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew both come to mind—but no one gave her the voice she has on the instrument. She made that herself.

I hope that as the narrative around her career comes together over the coming years, that part of the story gets its due. To be blunt, I think a woman like Clark, who is a solo artist and by necessity has had to build herself a public image, has a hell of a lot harder time getting people to recognize both her technical prowess and her innovation on the guitar than a male artist in a similar position would. That’s pretty much how the world still works.

I hope that in a few years, guitarists giving interviews to magazines will be telling people, “yeah, Annie Clark—she’s one of my biggest influences.” If she ever makes the cover of Guitar World, I might start reading it.

Also, on a personal note: apparently, she was at Berklee College of Music at the same time I was. I wonder if I ever ran into her in the hall.