Following the mild success of her brilliant debut, St. Vincent‘s Annie Clark has since enjoyed a gradual growth of hype towards her new album. Surely, the stunning singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and sometimes member of The Polyphonic Spree received many lonely guys answering yes in response to the title of that album, Marry Me. But nothing could have prepared her for the swirling attention that Actor was going to garner.
Through it all, Clark has been a shining star and with a dazzling, startling and strikingly gorgeous array of music, she has proven that she is worthy of all the hype and some. What separates the two albums from each other is Clark’s ability and approach to classical music. Adventurous and brave, she features a full orchestra that incorporates enough elements of Disney fanaticism, neo-classical harmonics and downright flashy Broadway flair to elevate the music into another spectrum.
Lead single, “Actor out of Work,” pulsates with an energetic drive of Clark’s adoring lyrics and the choir behind her’s progressive vocalization. The end of the song is the best part with a loud, cacophony of fuzziness and blaring guitars that serve as the final denouement. She’s channeling some singular musicians; everyone from Björk to Kate Bush to Joni Mitchell is not only heard but felt here.
The fusion of classical and modern day music is all on display and it is one that Clark knows how to contort very well. “Marrow” is juxtaposed between harsh, distorted dissonance that comes in the form of mashing instruments and an airy, major-lifted method of composition. They all play integral roles to Clark’s “H-E-L-P, help me, help me” recitation. And the album’s closing exposé, “Just the Same but Brand New,” is a torrid, inspiring and peculiarly ending slice of genius. Her voice sounds the most impressive-warm and welcoming-than on any other song, the introduction of pounding drums is a wonderful decision and that abruptly deceiving ending is a remarkable choice.
One can’t help but marvel at Actor‘s fine display of musicianship. Clark has truly provided a new side to her music that establishes her as one of the artists we will love for many years to come. Take that growing crescendo at the end of “Black Rainbow”: ferociously adorned with layers of drums, fierce strings and a precocious amount of instruments, Clark goes and keeps going where others wouldn’t even dare. But like her influences, Clark is simply, something else.
Following a similar path set out on her debut, the first song, “The Strangers,” appears to be a sweet and lovable pop song that hints at beautiful walks in the park with an unexpected lover before it rips into a viscerally-charged guitar thread unlike many others. But don’t worry, there is enough of her kindred guitar playing on songs like “The Neighbors” and her pop sensibilities are in full force on the deliciously joyful, “Laughing with a Mouth Full of Blood.”
There is no other way of saying it, to be succinct and clear, this is one of the best albums in recent memory. But what will make this an album at the top of many year-end lists is Clark’s impressive variety that is sparkled throughout. Rather than delivering more of the same music, Clark has achieved something exceptional; she has expanded her sound by leaps and bounds into a genuine fruition. With engaging songwriting, creative instrumentation and melodically special music, not only is Actor everything we imagined it would be but Clark has redefined the definition of pop music. So much for that sophomore slump huh?