Ms Clark (aka St Vincent) is an exotic creature and
her new album 'Actor' is an extraordinary confection.
An idiosyncratic composer and quirky performer
of her own uncompromising material.
She possesses a fine voice which never needs to force
itself to attain maximum emotional and dramatic impact.
The eleven songs in this collection run the gamut
from strange to stranger still.
There is real drama in this music. Edgy sonic landscapes;
tangled emotional webs; elusive imagery; grand designs.
Never too far away, none-the-less, lurks a highly refined
and sophisticated pop sensibility.
Ms Clark really does know her way around a good tune.
'The Neighbours' is an absolute riot of a composition.
The sunny vocal performance shines out against a jarring
background of chaos and distortion. The off-kilter instumental
melody at its centre is a perfect little masterstroke.
'Actor Out Of Work' is a stark and bitter slice of mayhem.
The cinemascope vocal harmonies are delightfully spooky.
'Black Rainbow', with its beguiling woodwind arrangement,
confirms evidence of Ms Clarke's inate musicality.
This is writing of the richest, rarest kind.
The dramatic escalation of tension in the coda is truly thrilling.
The scintillating introduction to 'Marrow' evolves into one of
the most remarkable pieces of music I have heard this year.
Brutal and beautiful in equal measure.
'Just The Same but Brand New' is another powerhouse of a song
paving the way for the delicately elusive ending provided
by the tiny two minute wonder 'The Sequel'.
One precious last enigmatic breath and suddenly it's all over.
The quality and complexity of the production never wavers for a moment.
A work of wayward genius. Nothing more - nothing less.
on 8 July 2009
That's right, 9. Save yourself five minutes and just click now the link to purchase yourself a copy of the best album of the year so far.
A rare thing it is indeed these days to hear a second album surpass an impressive first. But that's exactly what Annie Clark of St Vincent has managed to achieve here. From the very first haunting moan from the flute, to the last string of the violin. The aptly titled second album Actor is all about facades and reflections and persistently asks what's going on beneath the surface. One look at the album cover which portrays Clark looking not unlike a stepford wife, all wide eyes and porcelain features, would possibly have you expecting some indie pop served up on a platter of safe with a side of tried and tested. But look closer and beneath this tranquil exterior there's something bubbling beneath the surface.
On the surface swooning, soulful vocals lure you into a false sense of security. These are juxtapose to the discomfort and anxiety of the lyrics. When Clark swoons `paint the black hole blacker' - from album opener `The Strangers' - these poignant words serve to capsulate the theme of St. Vincent's new album. It's a melancholy one for sure. Certainly not one short of scope, ambition, and above all theatre either. We've already mentioned the inventive use of wind instruments; well that's just the tip of an orchestral iceberg. Foot stomps, bells, triangles, brass, choral section. Entire ensembles feature at times in the same song. This serves to provide a supreme musical depth to an album already awash with ideas.
This classical influence features heavily on Actor. Sweeping orchestral arrangements and wistful silver screen vocals give the impression this could be a film score from Hollywood's golden era greats. You could be forgiven for making this connection as it turns out one of Clark's primary influences behind the album was classic Walt Disney - who's films she would apparently shut herself away watching for hours, almost making this a kind of concept album.
This is a perfect analogy. Just as with all good fairy tales there are dark undertones here too. And just as the wicked witch looks into her magic mirror searching for answers only for untimely truths to be revealed, Actor articulates it's dark truths with that of the electric guitar, overdrive, synths and pounding kick drum. Actor is that mirror. And it is Clark's means of portraying the anxiety, expectations and boredom that potentially lurks under every façade of domestic bliss or suburban paradise.
Actor is out now, if you've bothered to read thus far and still aren't convinced, check out the video for single Actor Out of Work which perfectly depicts the sense of fallacy and frustration in a very visceral and visual way. It also shows off the two sides of St. Vincent's music and the contrast between the two - angelic vocals and classical arrangement on one side, grunge guitars and dark lyrics on the other - one you wouldn't immediately expect to work, but on the contrary, it does. More over, it does it beautifully. Emphasising the caged emotions heard throughout the record.
According to St. Vincent aka Annie Clark, "Actor" is all about losers. Unhappy, lonely people who are struggling to tread water.
Hey, any album that has makes the emoesque line "paint the black hole blacker" work has got to have something special. And Clark's second solo album is a little lot of unhappiness and melancholy wrapped in woobling synth and vintage crackles, eruptions of blurry sound and beautiful vocals. It has a more unified sound than her debut, twisting catchy pop melodies into unpredictable streams of oddball indie music.
"Lover, I don't play to win/For the thrill until I'm spent/Paint the black hole blacker... What do I share?/What do I keep from all the strangers who sleep where I sleep," St Vincent sings wistfully over an angular little accordion-laced melody. About halfway through, it whirls off into echoing space while the synth spirals around her.
It's followed the ethereal, drum-saturated "Save Me From What I Want," fast-paced guitar pop laced with drawling vocals, and whirling fever dreams of slightly warped pop melodies -- they're soaked in woobly organ, cacophonous eruptions of sound, and interludes of dreamlike synth. The album winds down on a mellower note with the last trio of songs: the off-kilter piano pop of the "The Party" (which serves as an awe-inspiring climax), the crystalline fragility of "Just The Same But Brand New," and the wistful horn-saturated drift of "The Sequel."
Not to mention "The Bed," a delicate tangle of piano and twittering flute... until you realize that it's about children who have "gotta teach them all a lesson" ("them" being all-too-human monsters) with their "dear daddy's Smith and Wesson." Seriously: "Stop, right where you stand/We need a chalk outline if you can/Put your hands where we can see them please...")
Speaking just for myself, I like my pop music to either be energetic enough to not merely be catchy, or bizarre enough to stand out in a sea of mediocre, instantly forgettable pop hooks. You know, the garbage that pop tarts regularly put out Fortunately St Vincent is more than quirky enough to fit the bill -- and while her previous album "Marry Me" was a colourful splash of different sounds, "Actor" is a more subtle affair with a more melancholic sound.
Most of the songs are polished, smooth concoctions with lots of classical instrumentation -- piano, twittering flute, sharp drums, horns, and violins that switch between smooth instrumentals and squiggling bow-noises -- as well as weaving in some nimble guitar melodies. But those songs are given odd warps and bends thanks to the synth, which washes itself through every melody -- sweeps, squiggles, fuzzing, and the occasional rich organ.
And then back to the album's theme: losers. Lots of 'em. Okay, it's a little harsh to describe every song as being losercentric, but it isn't focused on happy people.
Most of the songs are imbued with a sense of everyday loneliness -- an unhappy trip home ("All of my old friends aren't so friendly/All of my old haunts are now all haunting me"), nighttime drives, parties that are over and broken loves. St. Vincent has a rich smooth voice, a knack for clever phrases ("my pockets hang out like two surrender flags") and a few angular snatches of poetry ("The unkissed boys and girls of paradise /Are lining up around the block/Back pockets full of dynamite...").
"Actor" is a gorgeously off-kilter pop album that sounds like a visit to a lonely urban street, full of rain and unhappy people. Bravo, St. Vincent.
Every so often a song comes from out of nowhere and grabs you, punches you in the balls and demands that you not only listen to it but that you immediately seek out more from where it came from. Thus it was with me and Actor Out Of Work by St Vincent (Oklahoma's Annie Clark). It might well be the most exciting two minutes and fifteen seconds of song committed to record so far this year.
Of course upon discovering that Clark was once affiliated with The Polyphonic Spree (who once used a great single to drag me into a baffling mediocre album) I did start to wonder if this was going to be another anti-climax; I'm happy to announce that it wasn't. Actor may well be my favourite album of the year so far.
Never content to limit herself to a particular style, Actor is an album that constantly surprises you. From the opening haunting choir on The Strangers to the last strings on the album closer The Sequel you will listen to this never quite knowing what's coming next. One particular case in point would be Black Rainbow whose pop symphony opening gives way to disturbing scuzzed up guitars reminiscent of some Horror film soundtrack.
Her invention perhaps reaches a peak on Marrow. With it's orchestral introduction segue-waying into a haunting choir and a drum pedal, just when you think that she couldn't throw any more in , the rock guitar kicks in and says hello to disco horns. What is perhaps more surprising is that this "kitchen sink" approach works so well. Everything just seems to fit together like this is the way you are supposed to make music.
At one point she sings "I can't see the future, but I know it has big plans for me." On the basis of this, I hope that she's right. If this isn't up there contending for my best album of the year in December, then the next six months or so must be about to serve up quite a lot of classic albums.
on 3 April 2013
Annie Clark takes the ideas from her first album and takes it up a notch. This album feels more consistent in theme and style than her first album but still holds on to the beautiful string arrangements and use of a whole range of sounds, not to forget her fantastic guitar playing abilities and soothing vocals. Tracks like 'Laughing With a Mouth of Blood' and 'Marrow' ad pace and volume to the album, while songs like 'Black Rainbow' and 'Just the Same But Brand New' give the album a lovely escapist warmth as well as sinister slightly eerie undertones. Top it all off with her poetic metaphorical lyrics and this album is really something to sink your teeth into.
Warm, fuzzy and a little grimy at times. A flawless piece of music and on Vinyl looks and sounds fantastic.
Im sure this album is genius. But until I can stop playing the wonderful "Actor out of work" on repeat please treat this as a partial review...
Update - God how amazing I have just watched St Vincent perform the incredibly funky "Marrow" on Letterman. Big band, big sound but with Annie Clark looking vulnerable but forceful. Not a million miles from Dirty Projectors territory but a stunning performance.
Update 2 - have now moved onto the lovely gentle ballad "Just the same but brand new" and "Save me from what I want". Annie Clark's voice is bewitching and smooth as silk. The almost spoken "Laughing with a mouth of blood" sounds very familar, some thing rather Kate Bush about it but I can't pin it down. Like others I suspect this album has quietly slipped under the radar but it deserves to be in full view.
Update 3 - I now adore the song "the bed" which has a Japanese undercurrent and a angular structure which makes its hard to pin down. Equally "The party" builds and then the extended fade out works gloriously. I do find some of the songs slighty twee especially "the sequel" but overall a magnificant album and a startling new talent. Time to catch up on her previous albums.
on 11 June 2009
This is surely the best album to have been released so far this year. St Vincent's first album was impressive, but her second is way better. Annie Clark's musical vision is profoundly special. She can be simultaneously funky, disturbing and melancholy. Her tracks are put together like sublime leftfield jigsaws. My one quibble would be the brief final piece, which is less than essential. Apart from that, it's quite brilliant. And puts artists like Bjork, Bat For Lashes etc, completely in the shade. There have already been plenty of overhyped albums in the past six months, but this is certainly better than them, and the fact that it will no doubt be generally overlooked, only goes to show the ridiculous nature of the music business. Buy it now.