Back in September I happened to notice that David Byrne & St. Vincent were playing in Montreal. At the time I would have bought a ticket based solely on the presence of David Byrne, but then I gave Love This Giant a solid run through. Their new collaboration initially impressed me, but over the last few months it has firmly cemented itself as one of my favourite albums of 2012. As a huge Talking Heads fan, I was pretty surprised by this new incarnation of David Byrne. The evident give and take between everyone’s well-loved Talking Heads frontman and Annie Clark led to a collective project in its truest form.
In the construction of Love This Giant, both David Byrne and Annie Clark wanted the music to be based around brass arrangements, something neither of them had ever really done before. Horns provide the anchoring for the entire album, which struck me as a refreshing change of tone and colour when compared to what we usually get in music these days. Combining the clever counterpoint of varying brass instruments with their character-filled voices results in an album that jumps out as a new blend of styles that was not really available before now.
I think it is important in the case of a collaboration between a musical giant like David Byrne and a relatively obscure musician like St. Vincent to appreciate exactly what each member is bringing to the table. Almost everyone I know who listened to Love This Giant upon its release was trying it out because of David Byrne, and very few actually went out of their way to listen to St. Vincent on her own. While I still have not had a chance to fully delve into St. Vincent, listening even to just a few songs made the nature of collaboration evident. The eclectic rhythms and deep interplay between various lines below the surface of Love This Giant were found constantly in St. Vincent’s music, as well as her feel for progressive musical structures that fall very closely in line with David Byrne’s writing style. Finally, those cannonball bass and kick drum beats that strike hard but still leave a bit of space were very characteristic of what I have heard from St. Vincent.
At some point a conscious decision was made not to include a real drummer in the album, instead using drum machines to provide the underlying rhythms that contrast so well with the brass section. The juxtaposition of synthesized rhythm with arrangements found more frequently in classical music than in pop gives the texture of Love This Giant another facet that cannot be found elsewhere.
The entire album is solid, making favourite tracks pretty difficult to choose, but if I have to pick I’m going with “The Forest Awakes” and “Lazarus”. “The Forest Awakes” has low brass lines that sound like an elephant lumbering through a forest, while a few irregular polyrhythms give the impression that said elephant may have had a few too many. “Lazarus” seems to begin with a harmless beat, but as the excitement in this song grows there are so many voices to choose from in the mix, while those horns interact beautifully with the vocals.
Give this album a few good listens, and I’m sure you will great a greater appreciation with each run through. For you Ottawa readers, David Byrne & St. Vincent will be performing at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and they put on one hell of a show.