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Album Review: St. Vincent’s ‘Actor’

 P.J. Decoteau / Staff Writer

Actor, the new album from St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, seems to contradict itself at every turn. The singer/songwriter’s follow-up to her critically acclaimed debut release, 2007’s Marry Me, shuns expectations by making things a bit darker, a direct contrast to her pretty, but unassumingly quiet appearance (her curly black hair and big, bright eyes grace almost every inch of the album’s cover).

In the release’s first single, “The Strangers”, she repeatedly follows verses with the line “paint the black hole blacker”, but the melody remains almost ethereal, with Clark’s breathy vocals leading the way until the song breaks out into a swirling, guitar-riff and reverb-heavy climax. 

Many of the album’s eleven songs fit the same contradictory mold. “Laughing with a mouth full of blood”, what would presumably be the album’s darkest track, is a sultry jazzy song that would seem at home in a lounge club, while “Save me from what I want” marries a heavy synth beat, chimes and an overall upbeat tune that sporadically jumps into minor-note guitar picking and Clark’s imploring someone to save her from what she wants.

“Black Rainbow”, easily one of the album’s strangest tracks and treads lightly over a soft keyboard before bombastically unleashing a torrent of violins and bass. 

Perhaps the biggest contradiction of all, then, is that Actor somehow manages to be more cohesive than her first outing. Where Marry Me sometimes felt as though it was trying too hard to be unique, Actor travels at its own pace.

The disparity of the melodies, Clark’s beautiful voice, and the actual content of the songs, as well as the strange compositions, make the track listing an unpredictable affair that invites the listener to go along with the ride.

Even when Actor slows down at some parts and gets bumpy at others, it retains its own strange momentum while showcasing that St. Vincent, though early in her career, is already carving out a sound that is uniquely hers.