Genre-blurring St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) returns with the follow up to her critically acclaimed 2007 debut ‘Marry Me’. Aptly described by the New York Times as a “playful chanteuse”, ‘Actor’ finds multi-instrumentalist Clark drawing inspiration from a selection of her favourite films, from Disney to horror, with compelling results.
Those familiar with St. Vincent will be well aware of her penchant for abrupt and extremely dark shifts in mood, a skill she has honed and exercises to even greater extent throughout ‘Actor’. Musically, this second release is far more reflective of lyrical content, the listener kept in a constant sense of unknowing through the diverse variations in mood and dynamic, unpredictable structures.
From the moment opener ‘The Strangers’ begins the album has a definite air of fantasy about it. Choral harmonies, whimsical instrumentation and the re-occurring ominous lyric “paint the black hole blacker” seem to comfort and unsettle in equal amounts. Only when the fearsome guitars emerge is the listeners unease validated and relieved. The album continues in a similar fashion, twisting and turning through wildly differing styles. From the garage rock sounding ‘Actor Out of Work’, to the trip-hop tinged ‘Save Me From What I Want’, to the epic string crescendo of ‘Black Rainbow’ the album constantly seeks to surprise, and, on the whole, succeeds.
One element remains consistent for the duration of ‘Actor’ the fact that each individual track is, at its root, exceptionally well crafted – the many layers are present to accentuate, not disguise. John Congleton is, as always, impressive behind the desk and ensures that this does not go unnoticed, never allowing the heart of the pieces to be lost in the fantastic/eccentric arrangements.
Best summed up by the track title ‘Laughing with a Mouth of Blood’, this is enchanting pop, with lush arrangements, beautifully reserved vocals and genuinely menacing sinister turns. Those prepared to invest their time will most likely find Clarke’s rose and thorn approach enticing and undeniably impressive.