Album Review: David Byrne & St. Vincent ‘Love This Giant’
Annie Clark has had a career path almost as interesting as that of David Byrne, though hers has been compressed into one momentous decade. As St. Vincent she has made a tremendous impression with her music, and has certainly grown to be much larger than just a member of some greater whole, though she still seems to shy away from truly standing alone. Even her solo records aren’t released under her own name, and this latest collaboration is in line with her apparent need to surround herself with other artists.
David Byrne, too, has long been a bit of a musical explorer, visiting bands and artists and collaborating extensively. There is something to be said, especially for an older dude, for the creative energy of younger artists, and working with others might be what keeps David Byrne feeling relevant, or energized. Not that he needs to siphon off the passion of the youth, because he remains one of the most adventurous and uninhibited artists of his class. He and Annie Clark both seem more comfortable with another creative force in the room, whether for affirmation or inspiration.
Love This Giant is a sort of weird record, which is to be expected, but it might not be for the reasons one would anticipate. Everything about it feels just slightly off. Even though the two artists do have a lot in common, their impacts are not necessarily additive, and in some situations it seems these songs would be better off if just one of the two would take the helm.
The album feels very much like a theatrical production, but the story is unclear. The songs run a philosophical gamut and seem to ask as many disparate questions as possible, and maybe that’s the point.
“Who” opens the album brilliantly, encapsulating everything good about this collaboration in one brief and shining track. Here, the weirdness dial is set to just the right mark, and the song is both frenetic and subdued, whilst neither boring the listener nor shaking them loose. Several of the tracks here feel the same way, but this opening shot is the obvious highlight.
The followup feels like a slightly withering version of the opener. ‘Weekend In The Dust’ is what you would expect a collaboration between St. Vincent and David Byrne to sound like, but goes no further than that. Its focus on Clark’s vocal over Byrne’s is a matter of taste, but there are few real stylistic differences otherwise.
Byrne and Clark sing alone on this record as often as together, and in my opinion it seems that they are better off apart, though there are moments when their voices come together beautifully. It’s more a matter of the fact that when they sing together it feels more like a production, rather than one of these artists singing and expressing themselves. Clark carries the album’s best moments squarely on her own shoulders, as she seems to take the opportunity to emote and shine freely whenever one is presented.
The album as a whole features a constantly struggling brass section, giving it a very clear and strong motif, though it’s interesting that such a focus of the record appears to have been given so little effort. There is no drama to the horns, on an album that does not shy away from theatrics. They just provide a bit of playfulness, dancing alongside each track, and in some cases only serving to distract.
There are a few very strong moments of disconcerting weirdness, and unlike the overall slightly-off feeling of the record these moments are completely intentional. “Ice Age” is a sign of greater creative energy coming into play, and works in spite of its disjointed feeling. It feels like a Fiery Furnaces track has wandered onto the record, and it fits perfectly.
Love This Giant is an interesting experiment, but it doesn’t feel like an album fans of either artist are going to fully embrace. It says great things about both of them, and the directions of their careers, but this album, of its own merit, is really only going to appeal to those who are bored with songs and want to listen to some ideas instead.
Release Date: September 11, 2012
Image Courtesy of 4AD / Todo Mundo