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David Byrne & St. Vincent, ‘Love This Giant’ – Album Review

Love This Giant
4AD, Todo Mundo

“What the hell is this?” may be the proper response to hearing ‘Love This Giant’ for the first time (or seeing its quizzical cover). The new record from David Byrne and St. Vincent (née Annie Clark) is a brass-filled and brassy collaboration that’s the synthesis of two singular talents.

What is it that makes Byrne (60) and Clarke (29), who are each so representative of their generation of American rock music, work so well together? From differing swathes of life experience, they make a timeless and novel strain of baroque pop — all tubas and reeds and paranoia and maybe, just maybe, a wee bit of hope.

As so often happens with these kinds of collaborations, the duo met at a Dirty Projectors show and decided to work together. They traded tracks via the Internet and enlisted the help of major brass musicians, among them the Dap-Kings, Tony Finno and Kelly Pratt. Before long, they’d made gorgeous, daresay unforgettable music — which is interesting, since it feels so familiar.

‘Who’ opens with some typically wily Byrne weirdness — a swirl of film noir horns and galumphing drums, until the chanteuse voice of Clark comes alight upon a harmony. Picking up the pace, ‘Weekend in the Dust’ has dancehall swagger, bringing in drum-machine snap and mock operatics reminiscent of St. Vincent’s 2011 album ‘Strange Mercy.’

There’s a calculated whimsy here, especially in the narrative of ‘Dinner For Two,’ a mixture of date night and civil warfare. It’s fanciful, terrifying, hilarious and beautiful: “Some of us are losing it, some of us are breaking down,” Byrne sings. You don’t say.

Clark gets her first central performance in ‘Ice Age,’ showcasing that starling voice of hers. Elsewhere, Byrne’s presence dominates, especially on the jittery jitterbuggery of ‘I Am an Ape,’ as Byrne spins stories of statues and art and life. Amid the hand-wringing harmonics of ‘I Should Watch TV,’ he asks, in a seemingly non-ironic fashion, “How am I not your brother? How are you not like me?”

‘Lazarus,’ on the other hand, is a sly, sweet, sauntering and balanced collaboration, each star eerie and awesome in their own way. Hopefulness abounds in ‘Optimist,’ a gorgeous affirmation of New York City — where both artists are very much at home — that may or may not be facetious. Clark spies “Vivian Girls on the Upper East” and insists “there’s no room for emptiness” amid a bed of soft synths.

‘Lightning’ sounds much like St. Vincent’s earlier work, all tense poetics and nursery rhyme spookiness, with Clark speaking of waking up to a bed moved 12 inches — the half-expressed horror of the best suspense. But most of the shivers come from their talents, like when the two join in harmony amid a gaggle of brass in ‘The One Who Broke Your Heart,’ the track that might be the most cooperative of the album. It’s a rollicking ride of backhanded assurances, among them, “In their struggle for freedom, everyone looks the same,” and, “We’re all pushing and shoving to make those human beings.” It’s the aloof, observational tone of the Talking Heads coupled with the assuaged neuroses of St. Vincent.

Clark’s na-na-nas introduce ‘Outside of Space & Time,’ the operatic closer that has shades of Aaron Copland (if written for Douglas Adams). “I know we’ll join this cosmic saga,” Byrne sings. It’s a sign, one hopes, that this voyage will continue.

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