This is an album of temptation. St. Vincent, a.k.a Annie Clark, has a voice that is so well trained, it dangles precariously on a note, waiting for you to lose faith that she’ll keep it. But there she is, taunting you… controlled to a T. Technique is obvious but seems effortless. With this voice and myriad instruments, classical and other, St. Vincent dominates the landscape on the new album Actor.
From the album artwork, Clark, 26, could be misconstrued as merely another show from the Sufjan Stevens touring family juggernaut. She is, after all, the third artist in a row (after Stevens, himself and Shara Warden’s My Brightest Diamond project) with a profile shot in similar color scheme and image quality. It’s clear that although there are the occasional hints of Warden on songs such as “The Bed”, Clark’s voice and her inventive layering of synth sounds diverts from Warden’s stripped down soul. Clark has complex female vocals — you get the idea that it’d be impossible to program them in or utilize that “perfecting modulator” that so many pop stars do. She recognisably channels Tori Amos, Joni Mitchell, Feist and has moments of depth of range like Alanis Morrissette, yet none seem trite as the beauty resonates. It’s clear that Clark has her own look too, from her mop of curly dark hair and porcelain skin that looks as flawless as her voice sounds.
The genius thing about Actor is that it feels like an album rather than a collection of songs. That seems rare these days, unless you’re a Decemberist. Not only does it have the classical orchestral finesse of beautiful woodwinds (on “Black Rainbow”, namely), it seems to be a perfect juncture for the melding of dance and music. Mia Michaels’ lyrical choreography is an obvious pairing that would adapt well to the stage (certainly, a pas de deux with “The Party”). It’s not often that one can imagine artistic and commercial worlds comfortably meeting, but several songs could and should be used for pieces on the new season of TV’s So You Think You Can Dance. There, it’s been said.
Drama is abundant with moments that are Draculian and shrouded in suspense, thanks to Daniel Hart’s insistent violin. The artist’s inspiration from Terrence Malick’s masterful “Badlands” is not lost on some of the more bleak-seeming pieces. Yet, not everything is gloom and doom; Clark is playful on “Marrow” with the presence of characteristic lub-dub sounds of heart valves snapping shut. Syncopation is both simultaneously urgent and relaxed. It cannot be stated enough that it’s rare for there to be really rockin’ oboe accompaniment on a pop song, but here it is. Even the video for the first single, “Actor out of Work”, was fittingly shot in L.A. and is a sassy commentary on the inane auditioning process (the crying jags are a nice touch).
Following up 2007’s lovely debut, Marry Me, with Actor is a positive move with room for more. The eleven songs seem, in the collected 45 minutes or so, too short. That sense of wanting will keep listeners coming back for more if Clark can manage to remain as inventive as she is here.