Not so much a collaboration as a smashing together of ideas, and I mean clanging them about with wild abandon, Love This Giant is a party record for pop nerds — all weird observations, glinting horn stabs and off-kilter beats.
After a period of emailing song fragments, arrangements, partial lyrics and stray ideas back and forth, David Byrne (Talking Heads) and Annie Clark (St. Vincent) have constructed an album that seeks not to play off of one another, or even those blasts of brass, but to work in tandem … like a conversation held at the same time. They go back and forth in this way on the complex and propulsive “Who,” near each other but not really together — then Clark takes over on the smartly compelling “Weekend in the Dust,” followed by Byrne’s second-line fever-dream “Dinner for Two,” and so on, never exactly overlapping, never completely intersecting.
And, yet, Love this Giant has this nervy fission, anyway. Some of the songs — Byrne’s “I Am An Ape” and Clark’s “The Forest Awakes,” for instance — almost seem like they’re answering one another. Byrne pulls Clark out of the diaphanous haze that sometimes threatens to obscure her work, and Clark, well, she does something even more surprising.
Somehow, working with St. Vincent has brought Byrne back to the textures, tics and triumphs of his time with the Talking Heads. After years of exploring the outer edges of his writing craft (a process that occasionally has seemed more curatorial than effervescent, almost like a studiously focused act of moving away from the thing that made him most famous), Byrne appears to have come full circle without necessarily even trying to.
Perhaps it’s working with someone, like Clark, who possesses a guitar sound — when you can hear it for all of the horn-driven cacophony — that’s more distinctive than his own. (Certainly, that was the case when Adrian Belew joined as a key Talking Heads sideman.) Perhaps it’s working with someone who boasts just as many quirks, from their weirdly transfixing song structures to their wackadoo mops of hair. Maybe, as Byrne sings on “I Should Watch TV,” Clark simply opened him up, set him free.
Whatever the exact recipe for success, Love This Giant — due September 11, 2012 from Todo Mundo — goes one better than successful recent pairings with the likes of Brian Eno and Paul Simon by drawing out (odd as it sounds) more of what made Byrne so deeply intriguing in the first place.