St. Vincent, Actor

Chris Roberts

By Chris Roberts

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) made an auspicious debut with 2007's Marry Me, the title of which (inspired by a running joke on Arrested Development) drew puppyish affirmatives from fans of this unconventional experimentalist with the photogenic gamine looks. If that record hinted at a taste for sonic invention beyond the palate of most singer-songwriters, her second album is a full-blossoming. Challenging, startling and, at times, plain awkward, Actor at first intrigues then gradually captivates. It's both brave and beautiful.

One of the most exotic, eerie and evocative releases of the year

The Texas-raised, Brooklyn-based Clark, a figure in the local Sufjan Stevens/the National scene and onetime member of the Polyphonic Spree, has requisitioned worthy guest musicians. Woodwind is supplied by Alex Sopp (Philip Glass, Björk< and Hideaki Amori (Sufjan Stevens), while McKenzie Smith and Paul Alexander of Midlake bring ballast as the rhythm section. There are French horns, violins, multiple percussionists. She co-produces with John Congleton (Polyphonic Spree, Modest Mouse). Yet for all the acquired kudos and busy arrangements, what stands out primarily is St. Vincent's own personality. The voice may be soft and reticent, yet the identity — comprised of lyrics, attitude, a willfully perverse jumbling of ideas and compositional tropes — is confident and compelling.


St. Vincent

Clark claims her muses for Actor were films ranging from Disney to Godard, and you can discern the influence of The Wizard of Oz (a favourite of hers) in the sweet/sinister interplay here. Throughout the journey, you can sense both the cold radicalism of Bowie’s Heroes and the warmer pioneer moves of Kate Bush circa The Dreaming. “The Strangers” opens like a cinematic elegy, before a wave of distorted glitching lets us know that this questing Dorothy’s yellow brick road will not be without its flying monkeys. The rumbling gravitas of the National and the hyperactivity of Animal Collective inform the outstanding “Actor Out Of Work,” which is simultaneously pining and aggressive. “Marrow” comes off like a restless mix of Morricone and the MC5.

Clark enters a more mellow, restrained mood for the closing section, which are voice and piano led, but don't be fooled: like Bat For Lashes (or Lisa Germano), even her cuter melodies bear barbs. The angelic choir of “The Party” is contrasted by military-style drums. Nothing is ever one-dimensional. Like the films she loves, St. Vincent's multi-layered music rewards repeat visits. Actor may be one of the most exotic, eerie and evocative releases of the year.