Actor Review

April 21, 2009

st-vincent-actor-album-art2Artist: St. Vincent

Album: Actor

Released: May 5, 2009

Label: 4AD

 

First of all, I would just like to ask: why hadn’t I heard of this woman until now?!

Apparently her 2007 debut “Marry Me” generated a lot of hype; however, clearly not enough.  I obtained that album in order to hear it in its entirety before listening through her impending release: “Actor.”  The most arresting thing throughout the album by far is Annie Clark’s voice.  I have a feeling she could sing “Over the Rainbow” and put Judy Garland to shame.  At times I began thinking I was listening to one of the incredible singers of the 50s like Ella Fitzgerald, but before I could slip completely into that notion I’d be bowled over by a discordant guitar and/or a sporadic drum break.

Annie Clark’s arrangements are hard to describe mostly because of their strangeness. The oddity of her writing is somewhat inherent, as she combines guitar, strings, various percussion, brass, piano, and the list goes on.  Upon investigation, I found that Clark was a guitarist for Polyphonic Spree, and then in Sufjan Stevens’ touring band.  This is some serious indie cred, but then she played drums, bass, and guitar on “Marry Me,” proving she is a skilled multi-instrumentalist to boot.

Her upcoming record “Actor” has been posted on NPR Music as separate tracks, and all of them are there and free to listeners.  Most of the instruments heard on “Actor” are still played by Clark, but her collaborators include musicians who have played for Sufjan Stevens, Bjork, and Phillip Glass, while her producer has done work for Modest Mouse and Polyphonic Spree.

“Actor” is less dreamy than her debut, although it does contain that wonderful essence on songs like “The Party” and “Just the Same but Brand New.”  “Marrow” is exemplary of the raucous irregular bursts that are especially powerful on “Actor.”  I can imagine that track becoming one of her supreme live songs.  The songs are even more complex and still feature a wealth of different instruments, but are arranged into increasingly byzantine layers.  Her guitar seems to have gained quite the attitude since 2007, so the quieter melodic portions tend to be dominated by piano instead.  All in all, there is just a lot more going on in “Actor.”  The sounds range from raging guitar and walls of noise, to pure heavenly vocals, which are often both present in a single song, as heard in “The Strangers.”

The only real drawback I see for listeners of “Actor” is that it may be too much for some people to take in at first.  If you have that feeling, then I urge you to listen through the whole album before you make any final judgments.  Any suspended criticism will pay off, and you’ll realize what a gem it is.

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