Brooklynite Annie Clark, who now performs as St. Vincent, had a varied early musical career. It included a range of stints as a supporting musician, for Sufjan Stevens, Glenn Branca’s guitar orchestra, and even the robe-clad indie collective Polyphonic Spree. In like fashion, her second LP as a solo artist, Actor, has classification-hunters stumped.
Musically sophisticated yet unabashed in its pop appeal, it showcases Clark considerable skills as an instrumentalist (guitarist/keyboardist, et cetera) and her beautiful, flexible yet gutsy singing voice. Her choice of bandmates is wide-ranging; it includes concert music performers – violinist Daniel Hart, flutist Alex Sopp French horn-player Michael Adkinson, and wind-player Hideaki Aomori – as well as drummer Matthias Bossi and bassist William Flyn, members the of indie rock band Midlake. Integrated in the mix are deftly incorporated elements of electronica; displayed to great advantage on the IDM-ready, eminently memorable “The Stranger.” Similarly, “Just the Same but Brand New” lives up to its title; pop styles past – from 50s to 90s vintage – waft through a postmodern kaleidoscope, setting the stage for Clark’s evocative, supple singing.
Despite her nuanced musical approach, St. Vincent has captured mainstream media and even pop culture attention. A recent article in the NY Times ran with the headline, “Friendly, and Just a bit Creepy.” The latter description is doubtless due in no small part to the video for Actor’s leadoff single “Actor out of Work” (watch here, courtesy of YouTube). Under St. Vincent’s enigmatic, piercing stare, a succession of auditioning actors is reduced to tears. While the visuals are arresting, the music, which combines a Sixties-era “Wall of Sound” pop chorus, including layers of Vandellas-esque vocals, with a postmodern electro-pop aesthetic, is most engaging.
The lyric content on Actor doesn’t eschew provocation either; once again, juxtapositions abound. This is front and center on “Laughing with a Mouth of Blood;” an overtly visceral image is belied by the loveliness of the song and its rendition. A fully fleshed-out synthetic arrangement is wonderfully juxtaposed with Clark’s acoustic guitar solo introduction and breaks.
The CD closes with a gently articulated ballad, “The Sequel,” that features Actor’s assembled chamber orchestra, highlighting a beautiful solo from Adkinson. Clark channels jazz singer stylings in her breezy, lilting delivery; the song clocks in at just under two minutes – an all too fleeting, but eminently lustrous, miniature. One hopes a sequel to Actor will be fast forthcoming.