St. Vincent

Actor (4AD)

On her 2007 debut, Marry Me, Annie Clark, a former Dallasite who cut her teeth as a backing musician for The Polyphonic Spree (and, later, for Sufjan Stevens), created her St. Vincent moniker and established herself as a singer whose vocals exceed her diminutive frame and a songwriter whose playground constantly tests genre boundaries.

Actor, her sophomore release, again finds Clark staking her claim as an artist who defies categorization. Opening track "The Strangers" best embodies the juxtaposition of Clark's dark wordplay with classic chamber pop; lead single "Actor Out of Work" tells a more chiding tale and features more angular instrumentation (co-producer John Congleton's fingerprints are all over this disc), but is arranged in a relatively standard pop format; the best cut, meanwhile, the sickly sweet and baroque "Laughing With a Mouth of Blood," fantastically embodies the disc's dichotomy, just as the song title would imply, by pairing uncertain lyrics with as certain a singer-songwriter arrangement as exists.

By employing elements of both twee and gothic nature with consistently sharp wordplay, Actor surprises in that it unexpectedly widens, rather than narrows, its scope, given the crossroads at which it stands. And, as impressive as any of the disc's individual songs may be, that's what remains most flooring about the disc. Listeners may take different roads into Actor, but each will end up at the same place: The moment where, long after the disc has finished, St. Vincent's brilliance still shines.

 
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