Plumbiferous Media

Actor – St. Vincent

May 7th 2009
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Actor - St. VincentSt. Vincent
Actor
Score: 75








St. Vincent, otherwise known as Annie Clark, popped into the spotlight after touring with Sufjan Stevens following the release of Marry Me, her first full length. Her second LP, Actor, which was released on the fifth, is filled with the interesting oddities she has become known for since her first album. But while Marry Me made very successful use of these quirks, Actor is a little more hit and miss.

Annie Clark’s haunting, ephemeral vocals are at their best on Actor. The bizarre tales and melodies of the album are well complemented by her rich voice, which presents a constant, enthralling line above the instrumentals. The power of Clark’s voice becomes especially clear on “Actor Out of Work,” where the constantly changing musical quality of her voice creates a shifting mesh which gives the track its amazing eloquence.

However, at the same time, Clark’s voice is occasionally swallowed up by the somewhat dominating instrumentals, partially due to its constant quality. While Actor certainly benefits from a careful blend between instrumentals and vocals, in some places this blend has been over-calculated, slightly drowning the vocals. Nevertheless, for the most part Clark’s voice shines through even the best parts of the album – a beacon of light in the center of a periodically mystifying album.

Though Annie Clark has an wonderful voice, what is most audible in the album is the oddity of the instrumentals. While the strangely inserted fragments of lines, incredibly heavy distortion or hefty static, odd arrangements, and unexpected unisons certainly make for some very strong tracks such as “Actor out of Work” and “Marrow,” there are a number of tracks that lose enough phrasing and directed pressure that they don’t quite work out, even though they remain interesting (“The Neighbors” and “The Party” are two examples).

What is quite interesting then, is that while St. Vincent loves to specialize in eclectic musical absurditudes, the strongest track, “Black Rainbow,” is the simplest track musically. What makes it so excellent is the constant pressing force (both dynamic and in the highly repetitive beating and strumming that is present throughout the entire track) that drives the track emotionally while the various soloistic lines – the string section, the voice, and what sounds like a theremin – are free to provide excellent melody. Of course, this cannot be taken as a suggestion as to how the album should have been constructed, as the entirely different preceeding track, “Actor out of Work” is most likely the next most potent track; there seems to be no general way whatsoever of deciphering whether a track is good or simply decent based on its connection to another track.

The lyrics of Actor are, quite simply, as strange and wonderful as the vocals. Clark hasn’t lost a bit of the creative spirit of her last album, Marry Me, and she puts her excellent voice to good use singing the curious tales of Actor. Beginning her command to “make a black hole blacker” on “The Strangers,” Clark has intertwined a mixture of story, metaphor, and poetry into Actor. It’s impossible not to smile at a line like “Desperate don’t look good on you/Neither does your virtue,” and even harder not to imagine the images behind “Black Rainbow” or “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood.” After vocals, lyrics are what Clark does best, and she’s certainly succeeded on Actor.

Though Actor is certainly not a perfect album, it has enough captivating aspects among its charming disarray that it’s certainly a decent one. Clark’s vocals are as excellent as usual. Her lyrics are well-written, complex and yet elegant. The instrumentals are interesting and occasionally strikingly unique. What Actor suffers from, then, is a slight overdose of the experimental tone which permeates the album, and often a lack of direction. All the same, it’s certainly a solid album – just not an excellent one.


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