Even though St. Vincent’s last album, Strange Mercy, came out a scant year ago, the wait for a new release from the ex-Polyphonic Spree guitarist formerly known as Annie Clark has seemed much longer than that. When I discovered that her next release would be a collaboration with ex-Talking-Head David Byrne, I was cautiously optimistic. I was really only familiar with Byrne from a couple of Talking Heads hits and his reputation as an experimental musician. He was, in my mind, the guy in the over-sized jacket asking about my wife and house. However, I’ll take any excuse to get some new St. Vincent, and Byrne seemed a likely collaborator to her brand of strange indie rock.
Even so, I was still surprised by what I got in this package. First of all, the actual, physical packaging is the first I’ve seen of its kind. The packaging is a slim, plastic envelope with the titles printed on the plastic on one side and the song titles printed on the other. The disc comes housed in a paper envelope inside that, and is sandwiched between a small stack of loose cards printed with the (kinda creepy) album art. I don’t know if the intent was to save on plastic or staples or what, but it’s interesting packaging, to be sure.
The music, overall, is very similar to what you might find on a solo St. Vincent release. It’s quirky, yet strangely danceable, music. This time, however, the entire proceedings are bolstered by a positively gigantic brass band. Oh, those horns! Whereas most St. Vincent music is guitar-oriented, Love This Giant is dominated by brass. This new element provides many distinct flavors and nuances throughout the album – a bit of swing, a shade of Sgt. Pepper, a modicum of They Might Be Giants. I think it’s fair to say that this addition is the brainchild of Byrne, judging from the fact that the entirety (like, seriously, 100%) of his “Thank You” section of the liner notes is dedicated to name-dropping great brass bands.
Surprisingly, the album isn’t very collaborative from a vocal standpoint. Save for a few tracks, the album is largely he-said-she-said, with each artist flying solo on individual tracks. Annie Clark’s clear, high voice stars in “her” songs, and Byrne’s throatier delivery taking the spotlight in “his” songs. On the tracks where they share, Byrne’s stronger vocalization tends to overpower Clark’s wispier intonations. To my ear, this detracts from the dual-vocal tracks, and weakens the impact of the album somewhat.
All in all, this album is a fine example of what can happen when two (or more) like-minded experimentalists get together and let synergy take over. Especially when they’re willing to draw in an additional element and see how they can work that into their respective comfort zones. Seriously, this album is worth the purchase just for those delicious horns that just about steal the show from these two well-respected musicians. Despite a bit of a mismatch with the album vocals, Byrne and Clark still give plenty of reasons to Love This Giant.