With a nest of short brown curls and serene, far-away eyes, St. Vincent's Annie Clark gazes from the front of her second solo album, Actor, wearing a fiery gold satin blouse. Unlike 2007's Marry Me, which also features a close-up of a startled and vulnerable-looking Clark on the cover, Actor finds the Texas art-rocker looking confident, if not a tad ready to stir things up. All an apt metaphor for what lurks inside.
The album's title track, "The Strangers," begins with a Sleeping Beauty-esque female chorus and fluttering violins. Soon, a subtle dance beat breaks through, and Clark's buttery voice floats in while the phrase, "paint the black hole blacker" loops in the background. In contrast to the title track from Marry Me, in which a child-like chorus taunts "You don't mean that. Say you're sorry," "The Strangers" sets a much darker tone for the album, snowballing into a mess of distortion and crunching beats toward the end.
The album's single, a dancey-rock track titled "Actor Out of Work," is a drum-thick ball of energy that rings with accusatory statements all said in St. Vincent's innocent lilt: "You're a supplement. You're a salve / You're a bandage. Pull it off / I can quit you. Cut it out." Another notable song on Actor is the eerily whispered "Marrow," which leaps off a cliff suddenly, becoming a distortion-heavy club track with Clark spelling out "H. E. L. P. / Help me. / Help me."
Closing out the album, the song "Just the Same But Brand New" has a twinkling, wind-up music box feel that finally bursts into a summer rain storm of thrashing cymbals and tambourines. This final song, like Actor's cover, can also be taken as a metaphor for the record. An exciting, noisy progression from St. Vincent's more demure debut, Actor still maintains many of the signature flourishes fans have come to associate with the always-beguiling Clark.