The 26 year old Brooklyn singer-songwriter Annie Clark, who records under the name St. Vincent, cut her teeth as a live performer with the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens before recording her debut album Marry Me in 2007. The album’s tuneful, precise pop songs delivered in a breathy near-whisper received critical acclaim and contained hints of greater things to come. Sophomore release Actor represents a startling leap in ambition and personality.
Her starting point for the follow-up was to re-watch her favourite films and compose her own scores. This may sound indulgent, but the collection builds consistently on her offbeat creativity, which includes sophisticated woodwind arrangements and sprinkled-on heavenly backing vocals, plus the Breeders-like buzz of ‘Actor Out Of Work’, late 1970s Bowie references and the ability to make a song called ‘Laughing With a Mouth of Blood’ sound airy and nonchalant.
While Clark’s voice is sweet and innocent it doesn’t always deliver sweet and innocent things making this album a bit darker and a stark contrast to the singers’ pretty and unassuming expression on the album’s front cover. In the releases first single ‘The Strangers’, she repeatedly follows verses with the line ‘paint the black hole blacker’ before the song breaks out into a swirling guitar riff and reverb heavy climax. Many of the album’s eleven songs fit into this same mould, with Clark’s lovely voice unfurling over piano, synth and looped choirs of herself before erupting over swarms of manic strings and walloping crashes of percussion and guitars.
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. Her voice seems small and fragile, but it’s her most effective instrument, and it affixes a tight lynchpin to the album’s broadly creative themes, leaving it glistening with ghostly elegance resulting in an album that manages to both enchant and disturb.