Sunday, May 31, 2009

Album Review: St. Vincent- Actor

A few weeks ago I met Annie Clark, the waifish, bright-eyed chanteuse behind St. Vincent, outside of a record store in Georgia. She was there with some family, who were laughing and pointing at the record cover for her new album "Actor," which is essentially a huge picture of her face, in the window, and urging her to go in and buy a copy.

The cover of "Actor" can speak to the music as well. Clark is pictured staring into the distance, her eyes wide and her hair curling in every direction. The result makes her look like some sort of otherworldly fairy. This large image of her face is set against an almost garish orange background. Similarly, Clark's music is composed of her ethereal, breezy vocals over top jarring, distorted guitars and drums.

Given her background as a former member of the Polyphonic Spree, and given that I never heard her first album "Marry Me," I expected St. Vincent to be light, poppy ballads, bordering on twee. As I mentioned before, the music is quite the contrary. First of all, it's loud. While Clark's voice might be light, songs like "Actor Out Of Work" and "Save Me From What I Want" are thick with distortion and wrecking beats. After stalking YouTube, I learned that Clark is a master on the axe, and shreds live like a member of an 80's hair metal band.

On the other hand, she does have a more restrained side. "Black Rainbow" is a hushed track that pairs Clark's voice with jabbing guitar and floating keys. Eventually, however, the song climaxes in a goopy, cinematic swamp of organ, strings, and synth.

If "Actor" proves anything, it's that Clark is a master of both the quieter, simpler aspects of songwriting and the convoluted, complicated aspects of orchestral arrangements and production. Even on tracks like the jazzy and buoyant "Laughing With A Mouth Full Of Blood" Clark layers vocal effects, strings, stuttering drums, and a plethora of other instruments without sounding overcrowded or noisy.

I can't wait to get more into St. Vincent's catalog after hearing "Actor." This is a truly dynamic album featuring an extremely talented songwriter and artist.

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