Wednesday, March 17, 2010

REVIEW: St. Vincent - Actor

Here's something that I've written more recently about an artist that I got into after hearing "The Strangers" on NPR. Let me know what you think of the review - thoughts on what you'd like to read next?

What's interesting about St. Vincent (née Annie Clark) is her classic aesthetic mixed with modern wit and sensibility. She plays into this dichotomy really well in her 2009 album Actor; everything – from the tongue-in-cheek lyrics of “Laughing With A Mouth Of Blood,” to the see-sawing woodwinds on “Marrow” – captures a refreshing tone that explains her sudden widespread popularity over the last year.

That's not to mention the superb production effort from Clarke and John Congleton. Dramatic percussion arrangements add a bit of bite to something that's only just obscuring its alt-country roots (I can almost hear the plucking banjo underneath the fuzzed-out guitar roar on “The Neighbors”). Even the cabaret chorus of “Actor Out Of Work” walks a fine line between the swooning overdubbed “aahh's” and the slightly-off-kilter crunch of the guitar that follows them. In fact, that crunching guitar shows up throughout the entire album, creating something of a motif and adding a lot of the mysterious atmosphere that makes Actor such a listenable album. It's one thing to appreciate a varied collection of musical influences, it's quite another thing to know what will mix well with what, and I think Actor strikes an excellent balance.

Much of the album's success comes from Clark herself. Her's isn't a particularly powerful voice – I've heard even Jenny Lewis belting out with more conviction – but its power lays in its power of deception. Line's such as, “Laughing with a mouth of blood / from a little spill I took,” resonate through its quaint word-choice and visceral imagery, making it pop through her delicate, almost conversational singing.

Apparently Clark arranged the whole album using the Garage Band program on her Mac, which could explain its experimental edge. Some artists might go overboard when faced with the sort of god-like power technology can supply. Clark fuses her knowledge of melody and good pop with the the software's power of easy orchestration – adding layers that complement rather than overpower each other.

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