Album of the Month: David Byrne and St. Vincent – Love This Giant

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Sometimes, youth comes as a major advantage when exploring a new era of music for the first time. When I went to pick up this album (one I’ve been on the search for for quite a while now, and let me tell you, I was more than thrilled to find), I ended up having a long conversation with the record store clerk about the perception of the musical genre based on the different musical trends a person has lived through. He is quite a bit older than I am, and so when I asked him if he’d heard this album before, he said he hadn’t made an effort to, since he was disillusioned with David Byrne and his style.

Admittedly, I’m a relatively new Talking Heads listener, but since giving them a serious listen beyond their radio singles, I’ve devoured each and every album I’ve encountered, leaving me both satisfied but still primitively hungry for more. So, naturally I had trouble understanding what my friend at the cash meant when he said he could only take so much of David Byrne in one sitting. The precision of David Byrne meeting its natural complimentary sonic colour, the mad scientist of Annie Clark, all fleshed out over an LP? How could you not want to hear that?

“What do you mean?” I asked. “It’s the whole neurotic, middle-class white guy image he’s perpetuating. Sure, it was great to start with as something outside of the hairy-musician-on-the-road image of the 70s, but it gets to be excessive at some point,” he answered. Good point, I thought. Because he had lived through that whole era, he followed those musical trends and witnessed the growth of the alt-rock scenes of that period in real time, rather than in retrospect, as my generation does. As such, his perspective is more informed and broken-in, compared to mine. I suppose it is a little easier to become cynical or bored with an artist whenever they put out new releases if you’ve been around for their career. You know what to expect from them. It’s like crying wolf, in some ways.

Discovering music from before my lifetime is quite different. It’s still possible to follow an era or artistic idea in music quite closely and completely, but I can just as easily step outside it and tune into something different, something newer. And while I suppose that anyone can do that regardless of the time period they’re coming from, in terms of getting to the bottom of why someone would be disillusioned with Talking Heads, it makes sense.

So coming from a time beyond the era when they were just new kids on the scene works very much in our favour. Because we have our youth, and because we come from a different musical age, we listen to other genres (both new and old) with a set of fresher, more widely-opened ears.

Now, hanging on to our, er, youth, let’s talk about this album.

Love This Giant is the first and only release put out by the duo of St. Vincent and David Byrne, though after hearing this album a few times now, I hope this isn’t the last we’ll hear of them. If you’re already made familiar with each artist’s work outside of this project, a collaborative album sounds exactly how you would imagine it would.

Yet, instead of the eye-roll I was half expecting to give this album based on the tonal predictability it delivers, I was amazed at how much I liked it. Skeptical I may have been when first going into the album, I figured there was a pretty good chance I would at least come out of it thinking “that was nice”, since I am already a devoted listener to both artists. There was the lingering threat of disaster, however, of the two similar styles repelling each other, or alternately, producing nothing aurally new at all. All of these expectations were subverted.

This album is the best qualities of both Clark and Byrne combined into one, forty-five-minute, rolling and stomping jamboree. And, listening to it feels like falling into a haunting fairy tale kingdom, something like Little Red Riding Hood or Snow White, as the album art slightly suggests. It feels like the album is both with you and against you, as if you were Red on the run from its chase, or it were Snow, crooning blissfully unaware through the woods. It sucks you immediately, and makes you part of a narrative.

Clark’s guitar wizardry shines on this LP, and she surprises by delivering something new as well, that being the addition of an entire section of warm and woody brass tones that parade alongside the rest of Love This Giant’s electronic and more standard textures. While she may have done something similar with the woodwinds appearing on some of the tracks off of Actor, this is something exponentially bigger, as far as music ideas and curation go.

Byrne stays true to the approach to melody and structure one can assume from him, but don’t take that as a stagnancy on his part. He expands to fit the wide array of instruments on this album, and add a perfect creative extension to what Clark brings to the table. And, my friend at the record store will be happy to know that Byrne has long since evolved beyond the shell of the neurotic-white-man identity he started out with. His craft is still there, no doubt.

In a brief note on familiarity with this record, however, the sounds are not entirely new. With songs like “The Forest Awakes” sounding not too dissimilar to “Marrow”, and “The One Who Broke Your Heart” recalling very much the early Talking Heads sound mentioned above, particularly the sing-song quality of the track “Don’t Worry about the Government”. There is a strong pull towards external influences as well, with the muddled horn opener on “Lightning” fooling the ear momentarily to think it would lead into “St. James Infirmary”, or with tracks like “I am an Ape”, which use a heavy dose of rhythms and beats that seem to come straight from the techno scene of the early nineties. Yet, all of these are collaged into new context in a way that manages to work out with very few seams.

The collaboration between St. Vincent and David Byrne is ultimately a successful one, and the artists really do bring out the best in each other with this release, whose end-product is nothing short of a densely ripened fruit. And, as my mother yelled out over the open windows of our car as it blared down the highway and Love This Giant blared from our speakers: “This is a beautiful album!”. I very much agree, but if you have the chance, listen to it on vinyl. Perhaps musical appreciation doesn’t dissipate with age after all.

Keep an ear out for: “Ice Age” (the only track written entirely by Clark), “Optimist” “Outside of Space and Time” (the only track written entirely by Byrne, for comparison), and “Lazarus”.

Indeed, I proclaim: long live musical love children!!

-Bee xo

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