St. Vincent’s face graces the cover of her second full-length, Actor. The winsome singer-songwriter appears mesmerized by a bright light, her pupils white instead of black. The notion of putting on a show plays in several ways throughout the album. Musically, the cinematic textures (the album credits a “score consultant”) and, thematically, the rejection of a life of quiet, suburban desperation, coupled with the urge to force yourself into the creative world, boldly declaring that you, too, have something to prove or to say.
St. Vincent – aka Annie Clark – chases a richer, more symphonic sound than on her debut, Marry Me, flourishing Actor with clarinets, saxophones, french horns, violins and flutes. Thanks to the use of extended “oohs” and “aaahs,” there’s also an eerily church-like quality at times, as in the opening of “The Strangers,” and the backgrounds of “Marrow” and “The Bed.” But as is quickly becoming her M.O., each saccharine moment is confronted with Clark’s love of shredding on guitar. “The Strangers” bursts with a freak-out interlude, “Marrow” alternates between understated singing and cheese-grater guitar punches, and “The Bed” balances fluttering flute with shrieking strings.
In the title track of Marry Me, Clark suggested, “Marry me, John / Marry me, John, I’ll be so good to you / You won’t realize I’m gone.” She continues to poke fun at marriage on “Save Me From What I Want,” claiming, “I’m a wife in watercolors / I can wash away.” But it’s not just the union she rejects on “Black Rainbow,” content to “Let the children act like furniture / for the ladies of the lawn.” There’s no pretense of her own perfection, though, as she admits, over the swaying pace and fragile piano of “The Party,” “I’d pay anything to keep my conscience clean.”
The fight – whether it be with the notion of “The American Dream,” the artistic impulse or both – has left her stunned by album closer, “The Sequel.” She hardly enunciates the explosive line, “Bodies like wrecking balls fuck, fuck with dynamite,” as though her mouth has been numbed. But the creative mind is a masochist, and it’s only a matter of time before Clark returns for another match.