BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2009 St Vincent:Actor (4AD)

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St Vincent: The Strangers
BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2009 St Vincent:Actor (4AD)

Not having heard the (apparently) much acclaimed debut Marry Me by St Vincent (aka Annie Clark out of Texas) means coming to her particular talents with fairly high expectations -- and she doesn't disappoint.

This is a sonic circus with her gentle and melodic voice as the centrepiece, but it is the crashing arrangements for strings, voices and distorted guitars around it which command attention. There is grandiose wall of sound quality at work in places (Actor Out of Work starts with a upward soar and keeps that trajectory going as more instruments are added atop the driving beat) yet St Vincent is also at home with quasi-classical manoeuvres which also reference Laurie Anderson's aloofness or Meredith Monk's vocal layering (the increasingly cinematic, dramatic Black Rainbow which ends like Orcs marching).

Lyrically St Vincent offers a dark ride: "there's a black rainbow above my house . . . wrecking ball outside the door"; "paint the black hole blacker"; "how am I supposed to sleep? Roaming blackouts on the street"; "bodies like wrecking balls fuck fuck with dynamite" -- and those are just a few examples from the first half of the album. It doesn't have fairies at the bottom of the garden in the second half, believe me.

There is disturbing quality here on many levels, yet she also seduces you in (the lovely melody of Laughing With a Mouth of Blood, the simplicity of Just The Same But New) and when she gets you there she doesn't let you escape easily as the arrangements twist in new ways to keep you gripped.

St Vincent has been a member of Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Steven's bands as well as having performed in Glenn Branca's guitar orchestra -- and when you consider that diversity this album makes a lot of sense: she brings elements of all those things (and a bit of Bjork, soundtrack music, avant-classical and hard rock) into one place. If she thinks massive drums suit a ballad then she'll bring them in. Dozens of 'em.

Among the praise for her debut were comments along these lines: "It simultaneously recalls Tori Amos and Captain Beefheart. Brilliantly bonkers"; "a brilliant album" and "one of the most intriguing debuts of the year".

Clearly St Vincent hasn't resiled from her idiosyncratic path for this follow-up and you might like to add to the mix recent Scott Walker, mad Stevie Nicks and raiding "special effects" albums as well.

Yep, brilliantly bonkers sort of sums it up. Love it.

 

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