Quirky duets, horn funk make ‘Giant’ dynamic
Album Review | 4 out of 5 stars
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 09:09
Any fan knows David Byrne has never been short of swagger, especially when he has some good collaborators and a nice horn section at his disposal. Thankfully, his latest album features both.
“Love This Giant” is the pop maestro’s most recent album, penned along with growing indie figure Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent. The project began as a collaborative effort to write music for a charity concert three years ago, and has finally yielded one of the most interesting albums from either musician. St. Vincent and Byrne both decided to make the horn section the centerpiece of the album, bringing up the instruments’ usually supportive roles to the fore in an interesting and refreshing choice.
Fans of Byrne’s or St. Vincent’s music will know how tastefully they combine electronic and acoustic instrumentation, whether it’s minimal drum machine accents, synth bass lines or heavily processed guitar. But few artists have tried to fuse straight horn arrangements with the kind of rhythmic electronic work Byrne has made a mainstay of his recent output. Thankfully, the combination works extremely well for most of the album.
The opening track, “Who,” blends a jazzy dialogue between a baritone sax and the rest of the section, all of which is layered over a mechanically strummed guitar and increasingly melodic vocals and delicate synth chords. It’s an unconventional approach to be sure, but the duo more than pulls it off. Byrne and Vincent trade vocal duties with separately written lyrics, giving rise to an ongoing dynamic. The interactive element is both unique and invigorating, and it puts a fire under both musicians. Throughout the album, the two dole out catchy melodies, jauntily tense arrangements and contrasting vocal interplay with bravado.
Whether it’s Fatboy Slim, Brian Eno or Ryuichi Sakamoto, Byrne has always found interesting musicians to collaborate with. St. Vincent proves to be a choice pick, as her ethereal vocals and quirky lyrics work unexpectedly well alongside Byrne’s nerdy funk delivery. If Byrne’s vocals ever feel like they lack delicacy or St. Vincent’s breathy delivery needs a dash of grit, the other singer is quick to provide the necessary element. The give and take of the album, whether it’s lyrical, vocal or melodic, proves to be one of its best qualities.
While many may expect straight pop tunes in the vein of Byrne’s last collaborative album, his and Eno’s “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” (2008), “Love This Giant” has a lot more going on. The horn arrangements lend plenty of variety to the album, ranging from classically inflected atmospherics in “Dinner for Two” to the funeral dirge intro of “Outside of Space and Time” to the intricate trumpet lines in the salsa-tinged “The One Who Broke Your Heart. Byrne’s penchant for experimenting with different kinds of ethnic music, while nowhere near as evident in some of his past solo work, sneaks its way into “Love This Giant,” much to its benefit.
That said, the album still has some weaker tracks. As anyone would expect from a collaboration between Byrne and St. Vincent, there can be some strange musical choices that won’t appeal to everybody. The burping synths and nasally vocals of “I Should Watch TV” may catch a few off-guard, but the timely entrance of quickly interlacing sax lines and trumpet flourishes soon fleshes out the track beyond its initial stiltedness.
Even the album’s weaker moments have their virtues. Listening to St. Vincent and Byrne work their way out of their more whimsical musical choices makes the album all the more interesting, and creates just enough demand from the listener to keep him or her from resting on the sheer catchiness of Byrne and St. Vincent’s musical tastes.