When I arranged to interview St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark), her new album was just about to be released. She’s been touring for months, last year taking to the stage with indie icon David Byrne (Talking Heads) to tour the album they’d made together, Love This Giant. She started writing the solo album released this month during her tour with David, so she really hasn’t stopped in a very long time. When I asked her if she’d been doing a lot of interviews, she said “I have done so many”, succinct yet idiosyncratic, which would be good words to describe the whole interview
“At my funeral, I would like someone to make a jello mould of my body and serve it to the guests.” Annie Clark, sporting a white mad-scientist haircut, doesn’t shy away from the ‘quirky’, but as many critics have pointed out, she’s got more than just a few witty turns-of-phrase. Her music is highly personal and unusual, and she cites influences from Sonic Youth and Pavement to Charles Mingus, Yes, and Kanye West. When I ask her about them, she’s reticent – “Well, y’know, influences are one thing, and influences are great, and you have to have listened to so much music in your life to be able to make your own music, but ultimately it’s about having your own voice – it’s not about referencing this, that and the other and checking off some cool boxes or something, it’s about ‘what do you wanna say and how do you say it?’ And is your voice unmistakable, or do you sound like a million other things out there? The goal is to just sound like yourself.” Despite that, Annie’s willing to admit that “everything I hear anywhere somehow makes its way into my work”.
The new album doesn’t sound quite like anything else out there today. “I wanted to make a record that had the feel of human beings but the sound of machines. So everything is a real instrument, it’s just been distorted to the point where it sounds inorganic.” Nevertheless, I point out that the move to a digital sound has been quite popular recently, but Annie doesn’t seem to consider herself part of any wider movements in pop culture right now. It’s true that Annie’s projects seem to make a splash regardless of fashion recently – she and David Byrne worked with almost solely brass instruments on Love This Giant, and yet they still managed to court the critics – the Independent called it a “skewed and funky instant classic”. Annie and I talked about her time with David Byrne. “I’d worked with woodwinds and things before, and strings, but never with a full brass band.” Would she consider working with him again? “Well, we certainly had a wonderful time, and never say never, but I don’t think either of us are people who look back, so I think maybe it’s done.”
One era over, another era beginning – St. Vincent’s new self-titled release has already been lauded by hundreds of critics. It’s a bold and experimental record, and I asked how she went about writing it. “I come from the Nick Cave school of songwriting, where, if it’s time to write a record I just put on a suit and tie and go to work every day and write a record, and treat it like I have a day job… With a song like ‘Prince Johnny’, I wrote the lyrics first. I don’t usually work like that, I just had this fully formed short story. And then there are songs like ‘Rattlesnake’, which grew from a jam I was working on, and then I got bitten by a rattlesnake and had something to actually write about.” I asked Annie about her favourite lyrics on the album. “I like “Remember the time we went and snorted that piece of the Berlin Wall that you’d extorted and we had such a laugh of it?” and that’s because ‘snorted’ and ‘extorted’ are such ugly words. They’re ugly words in a pretty song. It’s just a challenge. How do you put the word ‘snorted’ in a song? How does that not sound just like a glaring mistake?”
St. Vincent seems like a more personal record than her others, partly because she looks particularly stately and individual on the cover art and partly because the lyrics give the album a confessional atmosphere. “Well, every record I’ve made has been in some cases really about my life, so I wouldn’t call this more confessional than others, but I would say that this is a more extroverted record than other records I’ve made.” Does she think that this approach to songwriting is a symptom of the culture she highlights on ‘Digital Witness’? “I think that we are obsessed with documenting our lives, and sometimes at the expense of actually experiencing our lives. But I’m also a fish swimming in the sea, and I have a Twitter account and I have Instagram and everything. My main rule for myself is just not do anything on social media that makes me feel empty inside. Like taking a selfie.”
Being a “fish swimming in the sea” in this internet age can be really beneficial for artist and fans, and Annie recognises that. “To me it’s all about the fans, and my fans are awesome, and I meet people after the shows, and everybody’s super-sweet, and that’s my favourite part of it. That’s the whole point of having all the social media stuff, it’s not just being a voice of propaganda for your interests, but to actually get that feedback, to be able to reach out.” Since Annie’s rise to prominence, she’s collected a fanbase which is increasingly diverse. “I feel lucky that it seems somewhat diverse. Y’know, it’s diverse in age, gender and race, and all that. That makes me very happy. I’m glad I’m making music that appeals to more than one kind of person.”
Oxford’s O2 Academy has housed some amazing live acts over the past couple of years, with the rest of 2014 looking equally as impressive and promising – the line-up includes American duo We Are Scientists, Tame Impala, the X-Factor’s Matt Cardle, and Katy B. Part of the charm of O2 venues is that they appeal to a wide variety of tastes, and are able to easily accommodate these.
The capacity of the building is around 1,400, which easily makes it the largest and one of the more easily accessible live music venues in Oxford. Every gig that I’ve seen at the O2 Academy has been comfortably busy, with a lack of rowdy drunks. It is clear that those in attendance are there for the music rather than the alcohol, and this gives the whole experience a much better atmosphere – singing at the top of your voice to your favourite song is made all the more special when there are hundreds of other people singing alongside you.
One of the O2′s strengths lies in its ability to showcase professional commercial artists, and to provide a stage to match. Here, the advantages of having a properly equipped music venue come into play – the lights are always incredible, with no two shows having the same bog-standard display. Smoke machines give the entire venue a great atmosphere, as well as creating a mysterious and ethereal vibe which really exalts the live music. The main downside to the O2? The extraordinarily high prices of any beverage, not ideal for a student budget.
Kate Bradley – Oxford High Street
Oxford has some great live music venues – Cellar, Jericho Tavern, the Wheatsheaf, the O2 Academy – but the cheapest, most enjoyable venue to see live music is the city centre. At weekends in summer, a huge range of musicians grace the streets of Oxford, and every ten yards there’s a new sound to enjoy – singer-songwriters strumming their guitars, MCs rapping over processed beats, classically-trained pianists and jazz musicians, and my favourite, the trio that plays medieval Eastern European music. The more uncharitable amongst you might be angered by these musicians’ imposition on the aural texture of your day, but it always warms my heart to hear someone putting their talents on show, effectively for free, in the hope that someone will drop them a pound in return.
Busking can be quite a lucrative trade, and it’s no wonder that so many people are attracted to the streets on bright, sunny days to play to the crowds of shoppers and tourists. I’m most impressed, though, by the guitarist who plays soulful acoustic hits until 11 or 12 at night outside Boots – when I’m walking to Tesco or Cellar at 11.30pm, the world feels just a little less hostile thanks to ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’.
Nobody’s saying that High Street has the best acoustics, or that it’s always pleasant to have a soundtrack while you’re trying to dodge past strangers who are walking interminably slowly, but there’s nowhere else in Oxford you could find such a variety of live music for free.
Don’t be fooled by appearances. Oxford’s best classical music venue is in fact located a minute’s walk away from the Sheldonian theatre in the relatively small and unostentatious Holywell Music Room. Yes, the Sheldonian may have it all when it comes to orchestral music and drawing in the big artists but at the price of unadventurous programming and an impersonal atmosphere. The Holywell on the other hand is open to anything from student ensembles to the latest experimental music through to nationally renowned chamber ensembles (the annual chamber music festival is unmissable) so you really never quite know what you’re going to get.
The Holywell, in its miniature stature, also exudes intimacy on every level, from the proximity to the performers to the living room lamps used to illuminate the stage. It is this that makes performances here truly special, they become personal and human.
I am yet to watch a performance at the Sheldonian that matches the unique expressiveness and atmosphere of the Holywell Music Room.
“Where the body goes the mind will follow soon after”, Hayden Thorpe sings on ‘Mecca’, a lyric that could apply to the progression of the thematic concerns of his band. Wild Beasts have somewhat shifted focus away from their carnal obsessions for a more direct, angry and intellectual record in their fourth album. Not to say that any of their previous works lacked intelligence, nor that the latest isn’t libidinous and sensual, but where their past records presented an intellectualisation of the salacious, here the link to the body and the heart seems unmediated.
It’s been six years since the Kendall four-piece’s first album – an explicit and irrevocable statement record that introduced a sound that was refined and somewhat caged on the following two albums, culminating with 2011’s dark masterpiece, Smother. Those who miss the brashness of Limbo, Panto have little to complain about – that first album exists and will continue to do so, but Wild Beasts are treading new grounds of pop music, and Present Tense is their most original record since their debut.
The release has been accompanied by a social media Twitstorm, but despite engaging with all the networks at a modern band’s disposal, it would be too strong to claim that the boys have embraced these aspects of modernity. They remain outsiders, voyeurs even, just of the wrong generation for the internet to be part of their physiology. The title and album cover reflect a concern for the fragmentation of the now and for the place of the individual, and the man, in such a world. This relation seems mirrored in the fact that record is the band’s first since relocating to London, and Present Tense is subversive in its recognition of class and its threatening discontent with inequality. But the fact that this album feels, at times, fiercely political is perhaps more a sad reflection on the lack of social awareness in much of the music industry as opposed to any explicit ideology expressed in Present Tense.
Thorpe has spoken of using his distinctive vocal delivery “almost as a tool of protest” in the early days, but now it seems like the Beasts have more faith in the musical and lyrical content of their songs. Not to say that the vocals have been completely toned down - Thorpe and Fleming’s ‘comedy high voice/comedy low voice’ routine remains mostly intact, but there are times when the two meet and overlap in the midrange, as on ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’, and the effect is mesmerising. Tom Fleming’s vocals in particular are the best they’ve ever been, reaching notes with a perfect combination of clarity and catch. From the second song, ‘Nature Boy’, Fleming’s honey-soaked growl is introduced as an unsettling parody of innate masculinity, “I am the thing fenced in/I’m ten men”, and its return in later songs is inextricable from this menacing lasciviousness.
Whilst Wild Beasts have always understood the power of the comic, Present Tense is another album that is far more dramatic than it is humorous. Unlike similarly ambitious works of reappropriation, such as Arcade Fire’s Reflektor or Gayngs’ Relayted, Present Tense does not hide behind irony. Indeed it is very much a forward-looking record – its synths channelling Oneohtrix Point Never more than 80s synth pop directly, a bold direction at a time when revivalism seems a safe bet for commercial and critical success. Reflections of other contemporary producers prevail, such as the Nicolas Jaar inspired drum rattles on ‘A Dog’s Life’, and the building textures on tracks such as ‘New Life’ echo the subtly unsettling atmospheres created by label-mates Junior Boys. The electronic production is perhaps a reflection of the physical constraints imposed by working in a city as compressed as London, but typically the band manages to turn every element of their circumstances into a refined feature of their sound. By stripping away what is nonessential, the band have produced a record that is clear-eyed and sober, with every component captured in glittering widescreen detail. Much of the strength of the music rests on Chris Talbot’s sublime and intelligent drumming. The album uses live performance alongside a courageous confidence in drum machines, with both doing a large amount of work to subtly unite the songs’ precise elements and keep the momentum of the first song tumbling through to the last, via the circular grooves on ‘Mecca’ and the teasing game of tension and release on ‘Pregnant Pause’.
The label “art-pop” seems appropriate, but is perhaps misleading: very few of these songs are suitable for mainstream radio, both rooted in the context of the album as a whole and sounding unlike anything likely to be heard by accident. But Present Tense is art, and it sees Wild Beasts’ bark and bite at their sharpest and loudest, resulting in a strikingly clear but unmappably deep record that feels beautiful, incendiary and necessary.
Three sold-out shows graced Oxford’s O2 Academy on the final day of February this year – One Direction support act 5 Seconds of Summer, DJ Annie Mac, and London-based singer Louisa Allen, more commonly known as Foxes.
Given that Foxes’ general success thus far has been due to her collaborations – notably on Zedd’s ‘Clarity’ and Fall Out Boy’s ‘Just One Yesterday’ – Foxes certainly did well to sell out an Academy 2 gig. The crowd, largely groups of teenage girls and late-twenties couples, certainly seemed to think so.
Arriving on stage a good twenty-five minutes later than the running times suggested, Foxes still received cheers – notably from the rows of fangirls right by the front of the stage – as she launched into her first few tracks. After a somewhat hesitant start, Foxes became visibly more comfortable as the performance continued, her voice gaining strength throughout the show. The set-list was suitably varied – Foxes’ debut single, ‘Youth’, had the majority of the unusually static crowd bobbing along, with even the occasional jump attempted. Her newest single, ‘Let Go For Tonight’ also proved popular.
Added to this, Foxes displayed her incredible musical talent most prominently when she let her voice take centre stage. A mash-up cover of both Eminem ft. Rihanna’s ‘The Monster’ and Drake’s ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ really allowed Foxes’ vocal training to shine, and was a lot more enjoyable than some of the more electro-heavy songs. ‘Beauty Queen’ was sung beautifully – the “more acoustic” feel, as she put it herself, allowed the powerful message of the lyrics to be heard and displayed Foxes’ talent as both a singer and a songwriter. The use of keyboard, rather than the synth-pop and electro, really gave this song a layer of emotional quality that the mesmerised crowd engaged with. Finishing with Zedd’s ‘Clarity’, arguably the song that shot Foxes into the music industry with the most force, was definitely a crowd-pleaser, and not just for the girl that kept screaming her request at the stage.
Despite her amazing vocal strength, the stage was perhaps a little too big for Foxes. With her drummer and keyboardist polarised at either end of the stage, it seemed that the space in between was a bit too much for Foxes to know what to do with. Ensue a lot of hair tousling (though her fringe stayed perfectly in place – a true achievement), the intentional knocking over of the mic stand no less than six times, and some awkward engaging with the crowd.
All-in-all, Foxes’ vocal strength was the highlight of the show, as it should be. With a little more experience and time, hopefully Foxes will become more comfortable on stage, allowing the crowd to interact with her more successfully. The release of Foxes’ second album in May will definitely be one to watch out for.
Regular readers of the music section will have noticed quite a bit about Spring Offensive from me this term and while I apologise for such a deluge, I assure you they really are more than worthy of the coverage. Self-released and funded by an ingenious Pledge Music campaign, the Oxford quintet’s debut Young Animal Hearts has been a long time coming and die-hard fans will appreciate older favourites holding their own amongst some stunning new material.
Thematically, Young Animal Hearts will resonate with the bands 20-something peers, encompassing the post-student worries of dead-end jobs, financial grievances and identity crises. With the band members themselves experiencing many of these issues first-hand, the songs have a credibility and conviction that is overwhelmingly emotive. Lucas Whitworth and Matt Cooper’s lyrics balance simplicity and poetic imagery perfectly, with narratives that are both beautifully articulate andintellectually accessible – an irresistible mixture that makes the album highly relatable. The defiant, chanted refrains found on tracks such as ‘Speak’ and ‘No Assets’ draw you in deeper, subconsciously catchy and bizarrely euphoric given their morose subject matter.
Such an odd juxtaposition of dark, melancholic lyrics with exhilarating, uplifting melodies has led to comparisons with bands such as The National and Death Cab For Cutie. The intensity of the emotion is certainly equal to that portrayed by Berninger and co. but the jolting rhythms and mesmeric blend of vocals feel less polished, rawer and more intimate.
While musically complex, the album has been meticulously arranged to ensure every instrumental layer gives something to a track. There’s no flamboyance or pretension and their characteristic intricate percussive patterns and striking harmonies remain at the core.
The flawless ‘Not Drowning But Waving’ opens, its eerily unsettling guitar hook providing a relentless undercurrent on which the percussion and harmonies build – steadily brewing like the storm depicted – to a thunderous crescendo. Staccato synths punctuate the clipped vocals on the more instrumentally sparse ‘Bodylifting’ and clapped rhythms on ‘The River’ and ‘Carrier’ provide a similarly punchy beat that both lifts and drives the brooding libretto.
This unsuppressed vigour and energy in the face of hardship tires only in the final tracks ’52 Miles’ and ‘Young Animal Hearts’. Slowed down and more subdued, they convey a wearier resilience and while still hopeful in outlook, express a resignation to the trials of modern life and an acceptance of our innate human nature.
If you find yourself hanging around in Oxford over the vac, essayless and alone, don’t worry! We’ve put together a handy guide so you can fill your vac with beautiful, boredom-alleviating noise.
Paul Lewis @ the Sheldonian, 18th March 2014
Pianist Paul Lewis performs Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, and Mussorgsky at this concert for lovers of extravagant and showy classical music.
Stranglers @ O2 Academy, 19th March 2014
Famed for their sophisticated punk, Stranglers have been impressing audiences for four decades, and this promises to be a great night.
Bright Works @ Jericho Tavern, 22nd March 2014
Bright Works (formerly Nairobi) are an Oxford band making experimental sounds - go to this great venue to support local talent!
Metronomy @ O2 Academy, 25th March 2014
Metronomy are right on trend this year, and they come to the O2 a couple of weeks after the end of term.
Suede @ O2 Academy, 28th March 2014
Long after most Britpop bands decided to call it a day, Suede carried on making music, and it’s still as catchy and crafted as ever.
Susan Boyle @ New Theatre Oxford, 29th March 2014
Iconic popular opera singer who came to fame unexpectedly on Britain’s Got Talent, Susan Boyle comes to New Theatre to perform this year.
Matt Cardle @ O2 Academy, 13th April 2014
If you’re back in Oxford before the start of term, you could go and see ex-X Factor singer Matt Cardle, whose chart hits have brought him the love of tweens and grans everywhere.
“I’d say it’s the more Eva Cassidy end of folk… for want of a better way to describe it!” laughs Devonshire singer-songwriter Jess Hall about her upcoming debut album Bookshelves. Though this is perhaps not the most current of comparisons, Jess’ naturally stunning vocals have been attracting a lot of attention on the Oxford music scene and Bookshelves is all about the voice. “My main skill is singing, so Barney, the producer, and I wanted to focus on that. It’s very simple and pared down; there are some bigger arrangements but the instrumentation is there to compliment the vocals really.” Thematically, Bookshelves is less steeped in the history and storytelling of conventional folk, with Jess instead drawing inspiration from the beauty of her coastal home town and wistful memories of experiences growing up there. “I was listening to Seth Lakeman, Cara Dillon and Katherine Roberts when I was starting to get back into folk and they were all singing about people getting murdered and really horrific sexual violence stories. It’s just quite depressing and probably not what you want to sing about all day or have stuck in your head; I think sometimes life’s hard enough on its own! So for my songs I’ve stuck to more personal experience… or if not personal, other people’s experiences and then cleverly hidden it so they don’t know I’m talking about them!
“Lyrically there’s a lot of romance and also a lot of beach references, as a literal thing and as a metaphor. I love the sea; whenever I see it anywhere it makes me glad inside.”
With such a deep emotional connection to the coast, moving to the land-locked spires of Oxford for her work with Christian Aid could have had a detrimental impact on Jess’ music. Not surprisingly though for someone with such natural talent, Jess has blossomed, with a number of high-profile local musicians falling for the clarity and purity of her voice. “It was something that I really wasn’t expecting actually, I didn’t realise fully that there was such a thriving scene here, and I’d only really just started to get into open mic stuff in Devon. It’s a hard place to move to if you’re not a student I think and getting involved in music has put me in touch with a lot of lovely people. It’s been really exciting, I think particularly working with Barney, I’ve been playing with him on and off over the last three years now.” Producer of Bookshelves, Barney Morse-Brown is a local folk-roots cellist with an impressive back-catalogue of session work, performing with the likes of Eliza Carthy, Birdy, The Imagined Village and Chris Wood, as well as garnering critical acclaim with his own work in Duotone.
“I’d seen him supporting Stornoway at the A1 Pool Hall gigs when they launched their debut album, and I was really intrigued by him and his beautiful cello playing. So I wrote him a message saying that I was interested in his lyrics and if it wasn’t too personal, could he tell me about them? A few days later he sent me a message back and I just thought it was really sweet he’d taken the time to do that. From there, I asked him if he’d play at a charity gig I was putting on and we ended up playing together. He’s worked with some big, big names so from the start I was very excited. He’s a very generous player; he’s not there to steal the show.”
As well as Morse-Brown’s production and cello accompaniment, Bookshelves also features input from Stornoway’s Jon Ouin who was keen to get involved with the project after seeing Jess perform at Wilderness festival. “I was singing with a local band called Flights of Helios, they’d asked me to do some folk songs with them. Jon came over afterwards and said he really enjoyed my singing which was just so cool. Jon met Barney at some point and expressed that he would be interested in being involved with the album too. He’s got a lot of respect for what Barney does. When Barney told me I was just running round the room going ‘Jon Ouin!’ like a massive geek, it’s so embarrassing, but I was a huge fan so it’s quite funny now that he’s a friend. I remember being quite nervous when I first met him. He’s an amazing musician as well and really accomplished, and my guitar playing… well obviously I’m a singer and the guitar is a back up to that, but Jon’s got an incredible knack for picking up instruments and being able to play them to a real degree of excellence.”
Such an encouraging experience from the creation of Bookshelves may have come as a surprise to Jess, who was quite reluctant to record when first starting out as an artist. “I had done a little bit randomly and I think it’s quite easy when you’re recording and you don’t know much about the process to end up with something that you think doesn’t really sound like you, and it put me off a bit. Actually it was trying to get gigs that really spurred on the recording because promoters if they’ve not heard of you need convincing sometimes.” After sending out a very basic, single track MP3 sung into a friend’s Tascam recorder and receiving a number of rejections, Jess decided she needed something stronger to send to the venues, and with the help of her uncle’s home-made studio, put together EP Red Jumper, released in 2011.
Now, having successfully produced a full-length album through a largely collaborative recording process, her confidence has grown and Jess hopes the album launch will bring further gigs and festival appearances, with Green Man and a return to Wilderness high on her wish list. Due to her full time job, there hasn’t been much time for planning an extensive tour but Jess has some tentative plans should her debut meet with favourable reception, including a return to the Netherlands. “I did a tour there a couple of years ago and they have these little house concerts which are quite intimate. Vez (PR manager) and I were also talking about touring around bookshops, so we’ll see what happens with that, that might be quite fun.”
For future work, Jess also hopes to finally bring in another voice. “On this album there was a song I wrote called ‘Duet’ and as the title would suggest it was initially intended to be a duet. So I think I would love to find particularly a male singer to sing with, that would compliment my voice. It’s quite low for a girl, I can reach higher registers but it’s more of an alto range so it would have to be someone with quite a deep voice”. Given the interest sparked by her initial endeavours, it seems unlikely that this search will remain fruitless for much longer, although as Jess proves beyond all doubt with Bookshelves, a voice as strong and technically flawless as her own really needs no addition.
Jess Hall’s debut album, Bookshelves, is available now.
St. Vincent’s ‘Digital Witness’ sees Annie Clark mocking the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram age: “If I can’t show it, you can’t see me – what’s the point of doing anything?” It seems to be justified criticism, but then it seems hypocritical: St. Vincent released an intricate and immaculately executed video for the same song on the internet; a video was shared of her teaching the “rainbow kick”; ‘Rattlesnake’ opens the album by narrating a true story of her stripping in the desert and then being confronted by rattlesnakes. Yet Annie Clark at no point attempts to exclude herself from the society she is condemning. This is manifest in the video for ‘Digital Witness’, where she is in an eerie dystopia, but her sinister smile, electrified hair and high heels display her maintained individuality. St. Vincent’s Socratic self-awareness rightly elevates her above everyone else, frees her from criticism of hypocrisy, and helps create a beguiling yet entirely enjoyable album.
The album thrives on these contradictions and contrasts, even more so than previous releases: one of the purest love songs on the album is named ‘Psychopath’; ‘Huey Newton’ climaxes with angelic vocals of “Hail Mary” before descending into a blistering, semi-synthetic, distorted guitar riff; after the complaint “oh what an ordinary day”, the line “take out the garbage, masturbate” comes as a shock. This is all made possible by Annie Clark’s phenomenal guitar playing, versatile voice and her astute lyrics, as on ‘Prince Johnny‘, a poignant character study of an insecure boyfriend – “You traced the Andes with your index, and bragged of when and where and who you’re gonna bed next”.
For all its complexity, St. Vincent is remarkably direct and instantly gratifying. Its emotions are accessible and immersive, with Annie Clark thankfully realising that taking lyrical and musical obliqueness too far more often than not results in less enjoyment for the listener. At points, such as the ferocious ‘Bring Me Your Loves’, the extremes of St. Vincent’s spectrum are isolated as a reminder of her ability to create captivating music without antitheses. Interesting and enjoyable as these deconstructions are, they’re not as mesmerising as the tracks with extreme and daring appositions. Yet despite these occasional disappointments – the lyrics’ slight visceral realism on closer ‘Severed Crossed Fingers’ doesn’t prevent it from appearing uninspired in comparison to all that’s preceded it – St. Vincent is an exceptional display of challenging and inventive song-writing.