[sic] Magazine

St. Vincent – Actor

According to St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark), Actor is all about losers – unhappy, lonely people who are struggling to tread water. Hey, any album that has makes the emoesque line “paint the black hole blacker” work has got to have something special. And Clark’s second solo album is a little lot of unhappiness and melancholy wrapped in wobbling synth and vintage crackles, eruptions of blurry sound and beautiful vocals. It has a more unified sound than her debut, twisting catchy pop melodies into unpredictable streams of oddball indie music.

“Lover, I don’t play to win/For the thrill until I’m spent/Paint the black hole blacker… What do I share? What do I keep from all the strangers who sleep where I sleep,” St Vincent sings wistfully over an angular little accordion-laced melody. About halfway through, it whirls off into echoing space while the synth spirals around her. It is followed by the ethereal, drum-saturated ‘Save Me From What I Want’ – fast-paced guitar pop laced with drawling vocals, and whirling fever dreams of slightly warped pop melodies – they’re soaked in organ, cacophonous eruptions of sound, and interludes of dreamlike synth. The album winds down on a mellower note with the last trio of songs: the off-kilter piano pop of the ‘The Party’ (which serves as an awe-inspiring climax), the crystalline fragility of ‘Just The Same But Brand New’ and the wistful horn-saturated drift of ‘The Sequel’.

Not to mention ‘The Bed’ a delicate tangle of piano and twittering flute… until you realize that it’s about children who have “gotta teach them all a lesson” (“them” being all-too-human monsters) with their “dear daddy’s Smith and Weston.” Seriously: “Stop, right where you stand/We need a chalk outline if you can/Put your hands where we can see them please…”

Speaking just for myself, I like my pop music to either be energetic enough to not merely be catchy, or bizarre enough to stand out in a sea of mediocrity and instantly forgettable pop hooks. You know, the garbage that pop tarts regularly put out. Fortunately St Vincent is more than quirky enough to fit the bill and while her previous album Marry Me was a colourful splash of different sounds, Actor is a more subtle affair with a more melancholic sound.

Most of the songs are polished, smooth concoctions with lots of classical instrumentation — piano, twittering flute, sharp drums, horns, and violins that switch between smooth instrumentals and squiggling bow-noises as well as weaving in some nimble guitar melodies. But those songs are given odd warps and bends thanks to the synth, which washes itself through every melody — sweeps, squiggles, fuzzing, and the occasional rich organ.

And then back to the album’s theme: losers and lots of ’em. Okay, it’s a little harsh to describe every song as being loser-centric, but it isn’t focused on happy people. Most of the songs are imbued with a sense of everyday loneliness — an unhappy trip home (“All of my old friends aren’t so friendly/All of my old haunts are now all haunting me” ), nighttime drives, parties that are over and broken loves. St. Vincent has a rich smooth voice, a knack for clever phrases (“my pockets hang out like two surrender flags” ) and a few angular snatches of poetry (“The unkissed boys and girls of paradise /Are lining up around the block/Back pockets full of dynamite…”).

Actor is a gorgeously off-kilter pop album that sounds like a visit to a lonely urban street, full of rain and unhappy people. Bravo, St. Vincent.