An Extra Lost in the Scene

October 30, 2009

st-vincent-actor-cover1

Marry Me, St. Vincent’s first album, was an interesting collection of songs, but it never really hung together as a whole for me. Sure, “Jesus Saves, I Spend” and “Paris is Burning” rank among my favorite songs to just put on and listen to, but I don’t find myself wanting to put the whole album on and listen the whole way through very often. Her newest, Actor doesn’t have this problem for me.

The whole album sticks together conceptually unbelievably well. I guess “conceptually” is too far to go here, as this certainly is not prog-rock concept album. Instead, this album is thematically arranged around themes of alienation, deception, and fakery. The second song, “Save Me From What I Want” finds St. Vincent struggling to come to grips with the fact that her desires are not good for her. (The title kind of gives it away, huh?) Her vocal delivery is what nails it here, lilting lazily along, only half-affirming the sentiments expressed by the lyrics, the dissonant harmonies undermining the solidarity of the words.

By the fourth track, “Actor Out of Work” she’s switched her target to other people, “You’re a liar, and thats the truth,” she sneers, as the song uncurls menacingly underneath her voice. “I think I love you, I think I’m mad.” Again St. Vincent lets her music keep the tension up, rhythmically laying down a single, ominous chord, letting fuzzed out keyboard flourishes maintain a sense of unease.

My absolute favorite track, “Marrow” stars out pleasantly enough, with an airy passage that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the first scenes of Snow White. That soon ends as she starts singing, with a propulsive drum beat underneath moving the song quickly out of any sort of happy sounds. Once the chorus starts, a wall of filtered guitars and woodwind instruments, St. Vincent singing “H. E. L. P. Help Me. Help Me.” the menace is full on.

By “Just the Same But Brand New” the musical atmosphere has lifted a little, but as she repeats the title of the track, indicating she feels freed, its almost as if she’s exhausted herself getting to the point, and just has nothing more left. No triumph this, more a surrender.

The album’s probably not great sunny summer day listening, but hey, winter is upon us. Give it a chance, I think you’ll find you like it.

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