Crack, baby, crack
When Annie Clark—the 27-year-old Texan who performs as St. Vincent—plays live, her small frame is nearly hidden from view by her guitar. Her eyes swoop around under a mop of black hair as she croons, her dreamy retro pop frequently riddled with frantic blasts of fuzzy guitar, her string-bean-legged stomps punctuating the music at its most dissonant. These moments of sudden ferocity are the best parts of her concerts, and they provided her 2007 debut, Marry Me, with enough grit to keep it from slipping into the ether of gauzy-voiced indie darlings. Her second album, Actor, plays to this strength, almost to a fault. Most of its 11 tracks start quietly, Clark’s lovely voice—like a more sprightly, less insufferably self-obsessed Tori Amos—unfurling over piano plinks, synth pumps and looped choirs of herself. Meanwhile, a tight-chested panic seeps in, builds and eventually erupts into swarms of manic strings and walloping crashes of percussion and guitars. It’s a stunning effect when used sparingly, but here it becomes a matter of course, to the point that latter-album tracks “The Bed” and “The Party” are actually unsettling in their failure to unsettle. Mismanagement of musical expectations is Actor’s one flaw: The album overall is beautiful, transporting, sometimes even danceable. Here, Clark’s lyrics are less overtly clever than on her debut, and they’re more deeply buried in layers of her spastic instrumentation. Nonetheless, they suggest a subtle, abstract intelligence. She’s fixated on the fragile, the physical (coffee cups, kitchen windows, ashtrays, bones, teeth) and the existential (“How can Monday be alright, then on Tuesday lose my mind?” she pleads on “The Neighbors”). Thankfully, despite Clark’s maddening proclivity to always rip it up and start again, she never considers her own music so precious.