Pixie dream girl Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) cornered the market on delicate, too-cute indie-pop with her debut, Marry Me. Actor, however, trades wide-eyed naïveté for jaded maturity, as Clark — who once penned a tune called “What Me Worry?” — now frets about being saved from what she wants and waking up the neighbors with shouting matches. Looks like the honeymoon is over.
Actor is a huge leap forward for Clark, who simultaneously focuses her songwriting while expanding her lush orchestral arrangements. Horns swoon and strings swoop prettily throughout, but just when things get too precious, Clark bitch-slaps her whammy bar over fuzzed-out, syncopated saxophone blurts that sound like Maceo Parker having a panic attack (check out the brilliant kiss-off stomp of “Actor Out of Work” and “Marrow”). Despite all the dark, gorgeous noise, Clark’s bewitching vocals and vivid lyrics still take top billing. In “The Party,” she paints an elegant, convincing portrait of after-hours love over unusually stripped-down piano and drums: “I sit transfixed by a hole in your T-shirt / I’ve said much too much, and they’re trying to sweep up.” It’s one of the album’s only understated moments, but Clark lends it as much drama as she does her lovingly bent Hollywood arrangements. Actor is undoubtedly one of the year’s best so far, and deserves a standing ovation.