Album Review: St. Vincent – Actor

May 5, 2009

Actress

Concept: A soundtrack for the paranoid and frustrated life of an actor out of work. A very private conversation with a very angry Judy Garland, or David Bowie’s misanthropic little sister.

Sound: Built like a musical, perhaps to satirically accomodate the concept, with a huge amount of variety. There’s strings, winds, horns, timpanis, and fuzzy electric dissonance, playing all sorts of styles. It’s hard to believe one person is doing most of the work in composing this album, but it’s true. Annie Clark is just a very talented lady. Five minutes from a flute-ridden serenade you could be sitting in the middle of a grunge rant, or a synth soliloquy, or a two minute ‘Day-In-The-Life’ crescendo dragging every available instrument into a pounding, shrieking froth. She doesn’t just play on instrumental breadth, either. Tracks like Just The Same But Brand New present melodies that simultaneously entice and withdraw, glistening and tragically cold. The only demands St. Vincent’s encyclopedic tours do not satisfy are improvisation and a quicker pace, so the grand structures might seem stiff at times.

Lyrics: Again, St. Vincent’s frontwoman prefers play between luxury and neuroticism. Looking from the song to its words is like approaching Clark herself. What is dressed to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed is on closer inspection only wide-eyed and sunken-faced. The pretentions of a first-person narrative may be irritating to some, and it isn’t the best example of such writing, but it suits the music and the concept and isn’t particularly self-obsessed unless deliberately so, unlike the work of so many other singer-songwriters.

Quick And Dirty: The only real complaint is that the album musically sacrifices catchiness for depth. There are few simple hit songs here, but tons of inspired composition. (♦♦♦♦)

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