David Byrne & St. Vincent "Love This Giant"

David Byrne and St. Vincent collaborate on 12 idiosyncratic songs that feature brass bands

David Byrne’s collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, is nothing less than genius. Both artists are acknowledged as highly original and idiosyncratic musicians who disregard traditional constructs of rock or pop music. Byrne, at age 60, is a giant of the music industry, standing toe-to-toe with cutting edge musicians and composers like Phillip Glass, Brian Eno, and John Adams. His work with The Talking Heads broadened the parameters of rock music and his solo work leaps borders, genres, and disciplines. Annie Clark, on the edge of 30, has already proven her musical prowess, first as a member of Polyphonic Spree, later in Sufjan Stevens’ band, and as a solo artist. Her inclusion of multiple instruments, multi-layered arrangements, and highly original themes pushes the envelope of contemporary pop.

Love This Giant grew out of a series of benefit concerts for The Red Hot Organization, which raises money to battle HIV/AIDS. Originally designed as a performance piece, the project evolved into an album when Clark suggested writing original material with brass playing a central role. The album is a collaboration in the true sense of the word. Exchanging melodies and arrangements via email, the duo’s musical dialog culminated in 12 songs. More than a dozen brass players were recorded in the large “live” studio of Water Music in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Athough the music is co-written Byrne and Clark wrote lyrics separately. Byrne and Clark trade off vocals, focusing on the lyrics they wrote. Squawking bass sax are followed Byrne’s voice on the opening track “Who.” Clark accompanies him with alternating grunts and airy floating chorus. The second track “Weekend in the Dust” is an edgy dance oriented track featuring Clark, and a New Orleans horn section heavy with punctuating tuba. “Dinner at Eight” features symphonic horns and a mid-tempo melody. Both Byrne and Clark write in a polysemy fashion. You can interpret songs at face value or search for the symbolic meanings.

Love This Giant is hypnotic, thanks in part to the amazing brass arrangements that range from insolent brash to sweetly seductive, to frenetic pulsation. Several tracks stand out including Byrne’s “I’m An Ape” with its tentative brass. “The Forest Awakes” features Byrnes’ lyrics but Clark’s vocals – the only time that happens. The marching cadence is simply enthralling. I can’t imagine any other artists creating music like this. “The One Who Broke Your Heart” is highlighted by Latin rhythms supplied by the Afrobeat Orchestar Antibalas and the Dap Kings. Programmed drums, bass, and Byrne’s electric guitar accentuate tracks.

Love This Giant takes its name from the track “I Should Watch T.V.” a song that reminds one of Byrne’s best work with The Talking Head. It’s an insightful commentary on the vast wasteland of the reflected world.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)