St. Vincent plays “Actor” on latest LP

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Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark, who records as St. Vincent, just released her sophomore full-length earlier this month on 4AD. Don’t get it twisted, this bona fide indie heartthrob is much more than just a pretty face — aside from her remarkable debut album, Marry Me (for the record, a reference to cult television show Arrested Development), Clark has spent time as a member of The Polyphonic Spree as well as Sufjan Stevens’ touring band and, before that, attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music. But, like any great musician, the elements of her impressive past are really just becoming notes in a constant progression as she unravels a range of emotions and themes in increasingly majestic elegance.

St. Vincent’s latest opus, Actor, is not primarily an Arrested Development reference, but instead appears to be an allusion to the songwriting process she adopted for the album. While cycling through some of her favorite films (including Picnic at Hanging Rock, Badlands, Pierrot Le Fou, Stardust Memories, The Wizard of Oz, and Sleeping Beauty) with the volume turned down, Clark began each song on Actor as a kind of soundtrack for particular scenes. These musical interpretations were later fleshed out and propelled into their own artistic orbit with exceptional songwriting, clever lyrics, rich arrangements, varied instrumentation, and notable guitar chops. At once cinematic, intimate, genuine, eloquent and at times playful, these songs represent a new level of artistry for St. Vincent and yield a record that is more comfortable, confident, and cohesive than her previous work.

One of Annie Clark’s most apparent strengths is her ability to incorporate ostensibly disparate elements in graceful juxtaposition. Throughout Actor, sweeping woodwinds and strings collide with intricate and occasionally crushing guitar work, bubbling synth, driving electro-bass, and moments of unsettling dissonance. Album opener “The Strangers” is a pastiche of nearly all these elements — its brief, ethereal introduction quickly fades into forceful kick drum stomps and a mysterious swirl of acoustic guitar picks and what could be effects-laden harmonics. Accented by woodwind flourishes, Annie’s angelic vocals float atop this slowly building crescendo until it all explodes into a dense, distorted guitar attack. Lead single, “Actor Out of Work”, is far more immediate; just over two minutes, the track opens with a quick intake of breath from Clark before an unrelenting burst of bold drums and guitars pierce the momentary silence, with splices of noisy synth cutting in between her smooth, swaying vocals.

Recently featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered Live Concert Series, Annie Clark’s live show dynamically reconstructs her studio material with even more emotion and energy. If you’d like a taste of St. Vincent’s live prowess you can stream that NPR set here.

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