Love This Giant—a record better than it had any right to be—is a synthesis of brass and two pointy songwriters. St. Vincent‘s Annie Clark and David Byrne write knotty, intricate songs over arrangements that try so hard to be pretty but edge away at the last minute. Call this the Watch The Throne of indie songwriters: Byrne and Clark complement each other, playing off of the other’s persona. Both are fascinated with the minutiae of social convention and counterpoint, like on the bouncy “Dinner For Two,” which paints a gradually tenser image of a dinner party torn apart by an unspoken truth. Byrne’s voice is thick and reedy—at 60, he is slightly more subdued than decades ago but only slightly: Album highlight “I Should Watch TV” features Byrne in classic social commentary mode, and the results are sublime.
While both songwriters share creative control about equally, St. Vincent’s angular production is all over the album. The horns serve the same purpose as the guitar does on Strange Mercy, providing irregular rhythmic bursts and tension to offset Clark’s gorgeous voice. Meanwhile, the same processed percussion—a mixture of live and programmed drums—is given a bass-heavy, more funk-inspired makeover. Tracks like “Weekend In The Dust” positively bump, while “Ice Age” uses the traditional St. Vincent hyperventilating-polka beat (“Surgeon,” “Cruel”) to counterpoint swirling horns.
This can’t be overstated: There is so much brass on Love This Giant. The album’s diverse use of brass results in staccato blasts, huge swells and all sounds in between. Everything from sax and tuba to trombone and french horn gets its due. The unorthodox arrangements—which reach their highlight on “The One Who Broke Your Heart,” with the dueling Antibalas and Dap-Kings bands playing off of each other—flow inside the bass-heavy electronics and guitar plunks, and the brass becomes a living component of an album obsessed with human interaction.
But this is not a St. Vincent album: Tracks like “Outside Of Space And Time” and “I Am An Ape” bear very little of Clark’s lyrical footprint and attention to detail—her quiet humanity grounds the album, which makes those songs a little weightless. Byrne’s songwriting is more concerned with capturing images: the dinner party, the statue, the television. His lyrical weight derives from the unstated stress in the air between people. Meanwhile, Clark explores the unstated stress within people—the frigid, the optimistic, the apathetic. “Optimist” has the great line “drinks on Conde Nast, I’m the optimist of 30th Street.”
David Byrne and Annie Clark (and to an undetermined extent, St. Vincent producer John Congleton) achieve a remarkable symbiosis on Love This Giant. It’s a natural pairing—Clark’s affected-outsider songwriting has been compared to David Byrne on more than one occasion—but the results are spectacular. Love This Giant could have been an acceptable curio between an established lifer and an indie darling, but instead it’s vital.