St. Vincent is the nom de rock of one Annie Clark, a young singer-songwriter shredder who has done time backing Sufjan Stevens and the Polyphonic Spree. When I first heard Marry Me, St. Vincent’s debut album, I was impressed by Clark’s musicianship and creativity, but somewhat put off by her neo prog-rock arrangements. The songs ranged from quasi-jazz balladry to fuzzed-out guitar rock and would often radically switch styles before the listener got too comfortable. I mentally filed Clark away with Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell — female eccentrics who may be geniuses but don’t get a lot of play on my stereo.
With the release of St. Vincent’s second album, Actor, Clark has been everywhere in the press, and she’s a lot harder to brush away. Clark has been telling interviewers that Actor was inspired by her love of Disney cartoons and horror films, and when you hear Clark’s multitracked vocals serving as her otherworldly backup choir on the vaguely unsettling “The Strangers,” you believe her. But overall, the album comes across as less conceptual and more down-to-earth than its predecessor.
Where the lyrics on Marry Me tackled heavy themes like religion’s suppression of sexuality (“The Apocalypse Song”), Actor sticks to more personal themes: siblings, lovers, blackened eyes. The arrangements are still unusual, but they are more accessible. Or, at least like the song “Black Rainbow,” they start out pleasant before scary strings turn them into a nightmare. One song sounds almost like something you might hear over the P.A. at a trendy clothing store — but when you catch the title, “Laughing with a Mouth of Blood,” you probably won’t feel much like buying anything.
ST. VINCENT: The Casbah, Saturday, May 30, 5:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $12 advance; $14 day of show.