This fall has been fruitful for music, having yielded dozens of releases from noteworthy artists, and dozens more threatening to push artists into noteworthy territory. Annie Clark undoubtedly fits into the former category. Having slowly gained steam for years and years as a part of Sufjan Stevens’ band and then onto increasingly successful solo releases, she exploded into universal notoriety last year with Strange Mercy — this publication’s album of the year. One way to describe her new stature: She’s risen to a level of acclaim that warrants a collaboration with one of the most revered figures in indie music. Because underneath all of the pomp and circumstance that comes along with indie buzz and blogosphere bands-of-the-week these days, there’s David Byrne, who, almost exactly 25 years since the release of the Talking Heads’ debut, still carries his transcendent style and knack for creating timeless pop music. We saw it in 2008 on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his second collaboration with Brian Eno, and we see it again here with added zeal on Love This Giant.
This album immediately perks ears with its instrumentation. It’s very orchestral, almost like a soundtrack, where each track is an oddball, larger-than-life story, independent, yet cohesive given the prominence of brass and the concrete imagery used to bring the tracks to life. Much like that Talking Heads debut, Talking Heads: 77, very few abstract statements are peppered in, which provides the album with a familiarity not usually present in their respective solo works. The sounds, on the other hand, can be very abstract, so it’s a good thing they’re consistent.
Much of it is beyond melodies. A sure sign of virtuosic production and composition (not always a good thing), there are moments where the rhythms and inflections being made by every instrument present would sound grating on their own, but arrange them carefully enough, and suddenly you’re nodding your head to the shadow of a beat, mesmerized, trying to pick out the prominent instrumental exchanges as they come and go. Clean guitars, horns, woodwinds, shakers, a drum set or two, electric guitars (obviously, Annie Clark is present) stack on top of themselves precariously like a never-ending game of Jenga.
Annie Clark’s prowess on “Ice Age” makes it a high point, as her legato whispers contrast horns rapidly humming along beneath her. The baritone saxaphones and percussion that open “Weekend in the Dust,” as well as the trumpet exchange that opens “Dinner for Two,” are prime examples of the mature, yet off-the-wall, composition that goes a long way toward defining this record.
Perhaps the most impressive takeaway is that Annie Clark’s eccentricity can go toe-to-toe with David Byrne as they both benefit from the eccentric talents of one another. The songwriting and styles presented are so distinctive that it’s unclear who did what in the process — all the more impressive considering the immutable sounds and styles that has made each of them prominent songwriters.
At the risk of sounding obtuse: Love This Giant is a fun record. A basic word that in this instance means everything it promises. The duo has fun with the sounds and the stories that go into it. There’s never a shortage of amusement, as no idea appears too eccentric for this record. Rather, by the time you’re done, you’ll have a hard time imagining anything more eccentric, anything too outlandish to fit in some nook. They make the alien seem inevitable, and here they offer up a familiarity paradoxical to its makeup. Because of course this is the record David Byrne and Annie Clark would make — defiant, smart, cerebral, inviting, and most of all, fun.