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After a long period of being sidelined and unfashionable, the female singer songwriter has been making something of a comeback in recent years, with a flurry of beguiling new talents emerging from all the corners of the world. Perhaps the most promising debut of them all came in 2007, the elegant, virtuoso Marry Me from Oklahoma's Annie Clark (AKA St Vincent). Now, with Actor, Clark has made the leap from promising to thrilling.
As melodically luscious as Portugal's Rita Redshoes, and as restlessly experimental as Iceland's Emiliana Torrini, Clark edges ahead of both through the sheer breadth of her musical palette. As befits someone who has worked closely with both the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, the eleven songs on Actor throb with sonic invention and eclecticism, written and expertly arranged by Clark.
So The Strangers may open as a chiming, music box whirr of percussion, organs and sugary harmonies, but by its close is assailed by a surging, snarling, surprising guitar. And though much of Black Rainbow is candyfloss pretty, its coda is a nerve-shredding, tension-tightening spiral of orchestration. Certain female singer songwriters are snidely dismissed by rock snobs as background music: Clark makes this impossible, since most of these songs are far too unpredictable to fully relax into.
Marrow is the most obvious example of risk-taking, a fusion of early Bjork dreaminess, Lykke Li electronica and Nine Inch Nails guitar grind which is as effective as it is peculiar. More straightforward is The Party, all rolling pianos and piercing melancholy, though with a melody as ravishing as this, little ornamentation is needed. The most obviously poppy song, Save Me From What I Want, lies somewhere between, with Clark's honeyed, insistent vocal gliding over a shuffling trip hop beat and fat, fuzzy bass.
It's true that towards the end, songs like The Bed and The Sequel veer perilously close to the very vagueness and conventionality the rest of the album has so brilliantly defied. But by this point, Actor has proven itself so bristlingly bold and inventive you can forgive it for finally relaxing a little. At this rate of progress, Clark's third album should be an utter masterpiece. --Jaime Gill
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I think you have to be a massive fan. I bought this because of good reviews but actually gave it away as I do not like it .Published 10 months ago by Mrs. Cher E. Wray
I am a long time fan of Talking Heads and in particular David Byrne so was intrigued at his collaboration with St Vincent. Read morePublished on 26 May 2013 by Chukkaman
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... Read morePublished on 3 April 2013 by Brandon
Bought this when it came out earlier this year.
It's a good album without being spectacular, don't feel it deserves to be top of any of the end of year lists but still should... Read more
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... Read morePublished on 14 July 2009 by Red on Black
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. Read morePublished on 11 Jun. 2009 by M. Brown