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Friday, September 21, 2012

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


David Byrne & St. Vincent - Love This Giant
Release Date: Sept 7th, 2012
Label: 4AD

When it was first announced that David Byrne, the secretive but never isolated musician responsible for the Talking Heads and numerous other solo efforts, was going to collaborate with Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, anticipation and speculation immediately burst above and beyond all realistic expectations. Does Love This Giant work to satisfy all of those hyperbolic music nerd dreams? In some ways, sure, but in most ways, not entirely. What it does do, however, is shift expectation from the artists as stars to the music itself.

In understanding the album, it might help to recall the age old expression of whether a glass of water is half full or half empty. In reference to a glass of water, this philosophical debate carries little weight, but in regards to Love This Giant, it nearly becomes the crux of the album. In this scenario, one half of the album is filled with gorgeous, inspired music that not only solidifies Clark’s place in modern music but also reminds us of Byrne’s genius. On the other half, it’s an album marked by disjointed efforts and little collaboration at all, a situation which begs the question of why this album was ever made in the first place. To view it half full is to champion these two immensely talented rogue artists for even challenging themselves to put this together; view the album as half empty, and you start to wonder why they even bothered in the first place. In reality, it's a mix of both, as the artists seem barely interested in each other but undeniably intrigued at the prospect of creating some their most unique and challenging tracks to date.

The album starts off with “Who,” and the brass-filled introduction to the track, which for all intents paves the way for the playful horn sections featured throughout, is a sort of unexpected delight. It immediately grabs the listener's attention, and does it quite well. From here, the vocals come in, and even though you were expecting him, it's a pure chill hearing David Byrne’s voice. It’s a moment that is powerful and historical in a way that modern music is rarely concerned with. And as Clark chimes in on the chorus and with her violent guitar, “Who” quickly becomes a transformative experience that shifts from common artwork to an act impossible to imitate. “Weekend in the Dust” is similar in many ways, but it also shows the first signs of why Love This Giant ultimately falls short of what it’s capable of. Clark’s guitar sounds nearly Asian influenced in its sort of caricatured bouncy rhythm, and her vocals are immediately reminiscent of why last year’s Strange Mercy was unanimously praised. But “Weekend in the Dust” also finds Byrne absent from all vocal work, and while I’m sure he donned an instrument or two in the recording, it makes the track seem as if it belongs to Clark alone. It's a trend that plagues Love This Giant throughout the whole of the album: neither of the two musicians share the space quite enough to make it seem like a collaboration as much as a compilation.

Even with the album's sharp and engaging consistency, and even when the lyrics are strangely juxtaposed against marching band-esque production (such is the case with “Dinner For Two”), it’s hard not to wonder why Clark and Byrne don’t seem to be in this together a little more. For however disjointed or disconnected the two musicians seem on record, the entire record bears out that this actually wasn’t the case. Which again, depending on how cynical you might need to be, will ultimately determine just how full the proverbial glass is.

Aside from the lack of Clark and Byrne together on the same track in a real, important way, Love This Giant is totally competent and enjoyable, with a heavy emphasis on the latter. Taking their album on the road this fall, the two have a massively choreographed and huge band, something which should help to flesh out the sound on stage, but more than anything it shows that the two stars were involved and calculating in their decision to record this album. Even from the few grainy videos already appearing online, there’s no denying the lighthearted chemistry between Byrne and Clark.

The inspirations certainly run wild, as is the case with “The One Who Broke Your Heart” and “I Should Watch TV,” and while the narrative thread may have fallen apart halfway through the first track, Love This Giant never loses sight of its gaudy, flippant tone. While the two might not ultimately bring out the best in each other, Byrne appears reinvigorated and happy on the album, and the playful compositions and instrumentation help bear that out. Love This Giant misses the enormously high bar which it set for itself just by involving these two artists, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable and worthwhile in its own way.

2 comments:

Anonymous
at: September 21, 2012 at 12:39 PM said...

The writer makes the rather foolish mistake of believing that whenever one of the artists' vocals dominate a song, that artist wrote the song alone.

Erik Burg says:
at: September 21, 2012 at 12:49 PM said...

I'm not blind to the fact that when the artist isn't on vocals that doesn't mean they're not involved in the song, but two things:
1. there's definitely something to be said about having one track be all Byrne, then the next all Clark and following that pattern throughout. It just seems purposeful, that's all.
2. in watching some of their live performances, you can see that their instrumentation varies a ton from song to song, not necessarily validating what I was saying, but it certainly doesn't disprove it either.

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