Plumbiferous Media

Actor - St. Vincent

May 7th 2009
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Actor - St. VincentSt. Vincent
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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