By Ben Ratlif
“Love This Giant”
Here are the names of the arrangers who helped realize the brass and reeds on “Love This Giant,” the joint album by David Byrne and Annie Clark (who performs as St. Vincent): Tony Finno, Kelly Pratt, Lenny Pickett and Ken Thomson. Mr. Byrne and Ms. Clark e-mailed them ideas for horn parts, written with Logic software; in at least one case the arrangers wrote some transitions as well.
Why list them? They helped move the record toward what it is. It’s not just the sheer amount of brass and reeds in middle to low range — including trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, euphonium and baritone saxophone — that shapes this album in rhythm, harmony and timbre. (The programmed drums here, by comparison, are much less interesting.) But it’s how elegantly they’re used, in overlapping hunks, with careful dissonance and blindsiding rushes.
This is an almost weirdly equitable collaboration between Mr. Byrne and Ms. Clark. The record has been released by both of their record labels. They’ve written almost all the songs together; they alternate as lead voices for much of the record, track by track, so that you never hear too much of one or the other. They sing together on choruses, or where one holds down the center, the other chimes in with a phrase that confirms or reframes an idea.
And their decision to make brass the fundamental musical unit on “Love This Giant,” requiring a series of other collaborations, has triangulated their talent. One of the most striking facts about this record is that it doesn’t sound definitively like the work of one or the other, though occasionally you will catch a whiff of something one or the other has created in the past. (The horns partly recall Mr. Byrne’s work on “The Knee Plays”; the seesawing muted brass on “The Forest Awakes” recall Ms. Clark’s earlier song “Marrow”; and the tubas in “Weekend in the Dust” recall that instrument’s use in the Talking Heads’ “Electric Guitar.”)
Their lyrical concerns seem to dovetail. The characters in these songs feel worried about, and fascinated by, the world as seen from a distance — a trope of Mr. Byrne’s for a long time — or are haunted and nervous or cynical, as in some of Ms. Clark’s past work.
“It’s true,” Mr. Byrne sings at one point, “I am a shaky ladder/intergalactic matter/outside of space and time.” And in “Weekend in the Dust,” Ms. Clark sings: “If you’re real I’ll be a hologram/why have none when you can have it all?”
But those horns are the glue. They make the music’s riffs and environment, with propulsion and calculated dissonance and cross-panning, sometimes evoking the World Saxophone Quartet or Charles Mingus or classical minimalism; they incorporate hocketing patterns, the relaying melodic device beloved of Guillaume Machaut, Wynton Marsalis and the Dirty Projectors.
In the outside world Ms. Clark can be a pretty excellent guitar soloist, and Mr. Byrne a pretty excellent rhythm-guitar player, but you hear very little of this; the record represents a separate chamber, a third way, and maybe the start of a future as a musical pair.