David Byrne / St. Vincent

Love This Giant

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It's not surprising that David Byrne and St. Vincent's Annie Clark were drawn to work together. While they're hardly sound-alikes, they are both keen but somewhat detached observers of the human condition who make music that's equally cerebral and passionate. However, it is somewhat surprising to learn that they created their collaboration Love This Giant largely online, meeting in the studio together with their team of musicians and producers a handful of times during the album's three-year gestation period, because they're on such a harmonious wavelength throughout it. Though the album's brass-driven sound suggests Byrne's post-Talking Heads work more than St. Vincent's guitar acrobatics (Clark fans may be disappointed that her playing is relegated to the sidelines here, albeit artfully so), it was actually Clark's idea to write these songs for a brass band when the project began as a handful of songs the duo was going to perform in a bookstore. At any rate, trying to dissect the collaboration's inner workings is beside the point when the whole is this dazzlingly creative. While Love This Giant might not be a true concept album, Byrne and Clark explore the themes of individuality, community, love, and death with a thoroughness and cohesiveness that suggests otherwise, and together they push each other into creative spaces they might not have explored on their own. Clark takes a funky turn on "Weekend in the Dust," where her singing mirrors the angular brass stabs behind her as beats whirr and tick like wind-up toys, and delivers some of her most vulnerable vocals on the expansive "Optimist," one of the most unabashed love songs to New York's potential since "Empire State of Mind." However, it's Byrne who sounds most revitalized by all the creativity flowing through Love This Giant, whether on the jaunty album opener "Who," the whimsical character study "I Am an Ape," or the celebratory "The One Who Broke Your Heart," which drafts the Dap-Kings and Antibalas to help him and Clark dance on their troubles. The album peaks with back-to-back highlights from the duo: "The Forest Awakes" lets Clark unleash her formidable fretwork over a relentlessly marching beat and strings and woodwinds, suggesting a particularly audacious St. Vincent track, while "I Should Watch TV" sets classic Byrne observations ("How are you?"/"Not like me") to alternately jarring and jubilant brass. For all the braininess and wildness on display, there's also a sweetness to the album, particularly on "Outside of Space and Time," which sings the praises of physics-defying devotion. Given all the things Byrne and Clark pack into Love This Giant, it's a remarkably catchy and concise set of songs featuring some of the most vibrant work that either one of them has produced.

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