17 July 2011

I bought this on Amazon for less than a pack of cigarettes

St. Vincent - Actor (4AD, 2009)
I should point out that the album I purchased was an advanced copy. I picked it up at AKA Records, and it was just a plain case with no art and on the back all there was was a press release with some specs. It's my understanding that real writers receive these in the mail so that they can file their reviews in time for the record's official release date. Nonetheless, it was less than a pack of Mavericks and it works.
"I like when things come out of nowhere and blindside you a little bit. I think any person who gets panic attacks or has an anxiety disorder can understand how things can all of a sudden turn very quickly. I think I'm sublimating that into the music." (Annie Clark pka St. Vincent, excerpted from a newspaper interview.) Actor came out a few months after Merriweather Post Pavilion, Veckatimest, and Two Suns which explains its absence in this space. I could only handle so much those days, and upon further reflection it becomes more and more apparent that the only time and place this album could be honestly listened to is July 2011 in Philadelphia. Lately with this record spinning, I have been transfixed and enamored. The music brims through my headphones. Strings, bass, and a masterful voice. Its delicate enough to dismiss, but in doing so you miss the raw power of it.
As much as this album has been played in the last two weeks there's been a lot of Grinderman as well. Somehow, my twisted convoluted mind pictures Annie Clark and Nick Cave as these siblings in the same line of work. Obviously they are musicians, but in my head they are spies employed by some absurd government agency. They get sent out on these missions, and sometimes the powers that be send them out on the same mission without telling them just to see who does what when they encounter the other. They each have their own style and methodology, but its the same job title with the same hours. NC fills more of the badass role in the agency, and he's good at it but he has to work for every inch. AC, on the other hand, is kind of perfect. She does it even better, and she makes it all seem damn easy.
Research has unearthed that Clark attended the Berklee College of Music for a brief spell, and later on was a member first of the Polyphonic Spree and then joined Sufjan Stevens' touring band before forging ahead solo. This background is in the DNA of this record possibly, or maybe its merely an album that has nothing to do with the past. "I can't see the future, but I know its watching me," goes a line off of "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood" so maybe this is all only about the right now, the here and now. Today, but not tomorrow or yesterday. Shit has happened, and more shit will happen but presently is just happening no shit in the forecast yet.
One of the constants of this record is how well executed it is. She knows exactly what she's doing it seems. In some other interviews and articles out there, Ms. Clark has said that Actor was inspired in some ways by movies like Snow White and Wizard of Oz how she would watch them and try to imagine a new soundtrack for those films. Admittedly, this was something never really picked up by my ears. At times, a sense of wonder can be detected. On "Actor Out of Work", there's a kind of hustle and bustle birthed by a special mind. More than anything else, I hear a talented musician playing several instruments with a voice capable of making strong men melt.
At the risk of going on for too long, this is the last paragraph. Going for succinctness here. "Save Me from What I Want", "Black Rainbow", "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood", "The Party" are the standouts if there could only be a few but the whole record can make you feel ten feet tall.

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