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St. Vincent’s Actor is a beautifully crafted album – perhaps too crafted and controlled – but it exudes some stunning poise. “Just as I’m about to get bored, suddenly she busts out some choice noise,” I was told over dinner this week, and I admit I had a parallel experience. Strangers opens in the way I figured it would, four-to-the-floor dance beat, Baroque-pop influences right up front (choir arrangements, French horn, saxophones), Annie Clark singin’ ’bout a girl, and then – real drums, heavy guitar riff! Actor Out of Work similarly, a blue Deerhoof-inspired synth-guitar thing happening there; the end of Black Rainbow where the whole song is subsumed by a barely-tonal, infinitely-rising, dark-as-hell string part; Marrow, where a Sufjan-styled woodwind moment turns in to a jaunty, horn-driven mechanical jam. What is great about this album is how it modulates so easily between light and dark, the sweet and the avant garde. Maybe it’s just me, but Actor, along with Bat For Lashes’ Two Suns, speaks to a new “sound”, something for indie female-voices, a blend of dance music a la 1995, guitar rock, orchestral elements, lots of reverb, and this kind of ambivalence towards the “happy” female pop figure – still saccharine sometimes, this is a move in a direction I approve of.

***1/2