St. Vincent: Actor (4AD) 

St. Vincent's hypnotic sophomore album, Actor, ends peculiarly. Penultimate track "Just the Same but Brand New" builds from light guitar chimes and Annie Clark's breathy vocals into a storm of zigzag guitars and distorted drum crashes before exiting in a din of wheezy electronics; in other words, it's the end credits. Yet "The Sequel" officially closes the album with humming woodwinds and warm atmospherics. The track is a winking coda, and a prime example of the cleverness that makes Actor a rewarding listen.

Still, Actor isn't flawless. Clark maintains a limited vocal range, transitioning from breathy to lilting, which may disengage some listeners. Unfortunately, such listeners may miss Clark's sharp, dark lyrics, as they are casually sung. Nevertheless, Clark's computer-written scores—much of the backing music was reportedly composed on GarageBand after or during viewings of her favorite films—add an interesting layer (and subtext) to each track. Opener "The Strangers" builds over haunted choral moans; "Marrow" steadies itself on seasick electronics, while "Laughing With a Mouth of Blood" is constructed around fluttery strings.

Actor is uniquely modern; noticeably heard are its combined influences of the genteel folk of Fairport Convention, the aural destructiveness of Sonic Youth, and the operatic gloss of movie scores (Disney in particular). That same modernity meshes the handsome and the grotesque in "The Bed," where Clark's calm vibrato sings, "Don't move / Don't scream / Or we will have to shoot" over colliding symphonic arrangements.

In other words: thumbs up.

More by Michael Petitti


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