by Chris Familton
Musical pairings are a common event for individual songs but two artists collaborating to produce an album’s worth of music doesn’t happen as often as one would expect. David Byrne has always been a songwriter with a strong sense of curiosity and communality, whether it be the polymorphic approach to his work in Talking Heads and their melding of funk, pop, soul and new wave to collaborations with Brian Eno and Dirty Projectors and a number of film, theatre and dance scores. Not to be outdone, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) has also shown herself to be a keen musical explorer on her three solo records as well as working with the likes of Beck, Bon Iver and Kid Cudi.
At Clark’s suggestion the two focused their writing around a brass section which immediately created a third pillar,alongside their own styles, with which to construct the songs on Love This Giant. The horns provide the narrative musical thread to the album, whether it is the New Orleans swinging staccato exclamations of the catchy first single Who or the mellifluous, wandering sound of the closing track Outside Of Space And Time where they act as a third lead voice in the chorus.
The title of the album refers to humanity and the bulk of the songs take on similarly grand subjects from the natural world such as apes, the Ice Age, lightening, space and time. They approach these themes from artful angles, cloaking them in parallel tales of relationships as on Ice Age where Clark sounds eerily like Siouxsie Sioux circa Peek-A-Boo in the verses and technological metaphors in the case of I Should Watch TV.
What makes this record such a successful collaboration is how the duo never stray from their melodic strengths and pop nous or get too weighed down by pretension or artful experimentalism. That isn’t to say they don’t push the envelope. The Forest Awakes possesses clever overlapping percussion and brass rhythms of the type that Bjork trades in. Clark seems to float over the top of the rhythmic clatter,weaving a wonderful innocent sounding melody before those iconic clipped guitar chords of Byrne’s enter the layered fray.
Byrne’s best and most obvious moment comes with I Should Watch TV where he delivers his most ‘David Byrne’ vocal. Those familiar yelps and wailing chants drive the song along while the ever present horns build a glorious wall of brass.
One of the highlights of Love This Giant comes as a brief respite from the often bombastic brass. Lazarus is given space for the focus to fall on the vocal interplay between Clark and Byrne. Though they hardly sing together on the song the juxtaposition of their voices makes it the most natural sounding and rewarding duet on the album with Clark providing cooing backing harmonies to Byrnes undulating melodic delivery.
Love This Giant is an album of post-modern art pop of the type that Dirty Projectors, Bjork and Grizzly Bear excel at. It sounds both utterly contemporary yet it stylistically references and celebrates many different musical strands of the last century. It often succeeds and occasionally fails yet across all twelve tracks it is endlessly fascinating.
this review was first published on undertheradar.co.nz