Thursday, September 20, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: David Byrne & St. Vincent - Love This Giant

Love This Giant is a very strange beast. Conceptually, a collaborative album from revered pop experimentalist David Byrne and the equally angular and accessible Annie Clark (better known by her nom de guerre St. Vincent) seems like a divine pairing, especially given Byrne’s accomplished résumé of successful collaborations with the likes of Brian Eno, Fatboy Slim, and composers Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su. In reality however, despite having the opportunity to join the styles of two audacious artists with distinct personalities, Love This Giant feels surprisingly divided and disappointingly safe. Perhaps baffling is a better descriptor. Why two dauntless artists would come together to create a collaborative album so segregated and circumspect baffles me.

The album begins exceptionally strong with lead single “Who,” featuring forceful acoustic strumming, a cadre of ultra funky horns, and masterfully exchanged vocals from Byrne and Clark that wonderfully play off each other. The song packs an incredible punch and really exhibits the natural chemistry that exists between the musicians involved, making it all the more unfortunate that the sense of collaboration on so many of the other tracks feels so lacking. Far too much of Love This Giant feels as if Byrne and Clark happen to be renting the same brass section, switching off periodically to be cost effective.

While a significant portion of the album does feel as if it was written over email (it was), this isn’t to say that all of the individual songs are underdeveloped. The Clark-penned “Weekend in the Dust” is a delightfully fun funk number bolstered by Clark’s fantastic vocal range (capable of sultry coos and energetic spurts) and ear for melody. The next Clark-dominated track, “Ice Age,” features a lightly abrasive programmed drumbeat that provides a nice layer of contrast to the ever-present brass and the angelic chorus effects applied to her voice. The song also incorporates (albeit very briefly) Clark’s twisted brand of guitar playing that elevates the song’s climax into something grand. These songs along with the adventurous “The Forest Awakes,” which was actually written by Byrne but features Clark on vocal duties, standout as the album’s peaks.

Where as Clark shapes and contorts the horns she has available and combines them with her talented skill set, Byrne’s approach to the album focuses more on using the brass section to create moods for him to dwell in. Even though it features very modern sounds including a sort of slurping drum machine (all of the drum machines on this record are deserving of kudos for their unique textures) “I Am an Ape” has the vibe of an old monster movie, specifically the scene where the Frankenstein-esque abomination become sentient. Ever the accomplished thespian, Byrne executes the role flawlessly. He again uses his theatrical delivery on “I Should Watch TV,” an upbeat and catchy number gargantuan in its size and lumbering (but in the best way possible) in its feel.

The tracks I have highlighted in the past two paragraphs are all good to stellar songs but they lack the collaborative spirit a release of this kind from artists of this magnitude should have. The abstract, libidinous undertones of St. Vincent are present on the tracks that Clark dominates and the art rock oddity of Byrne cuts through on his contributions but for the majority of this LP these interesting personas never intersect. When they do meet, they form something wonderful like the aforementioned “Who” and my favorite track from the album “Lazarus.” It capitalizes on every tool at the duo’s disposal and merges Byrne’s larger than life expressiveness with Clark’s guitar athleticism to form something dynamic, stirring, and magnificent.

In the end, Love This Giant is a collaborative album from two very talented songwriters that feels like a split LP. None of the experimentation we’ve come to expect from the duo is present on the record and while most of the songs are good, they feel unconnected to their peers which ultimately makes the greater album suffer.

Score: Light 6

1 comment:

  1. By the by, if you happened to like this album's brass-driven pop sound, I can't highly recommend enough Hajime Tachibana's Hm, which I briefly wrote about in one of my JAM Desho columns.