David Byrne & St Vincent - Love This Giant

by Mark Hammond Rating:9.5 Release Date:2012-09-10

There's a revealing moment on Rise, Ride, Roar, the concert film which documents David Byrne's worldwide tour in support of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. In his private studio, wedged somewhere inside chicanes of wires and hordes of Fender guitars, Byrne explains the process behind this second collaboration with ambient-muso Brian Eno. Coming some 25-plus years after their initial dalliance on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a hugely influential record which informed much of popular music's direction throughout the 80s and beyond, Byrne seems his usual offhand self:

"Brian and I would just pass MP3s back and forth," he remarks, having us believe that the Byrne-Eno coalition makes culture-defining music so effortlessly. There's also a fantastically candid moment where Byrne plays one of the aforementioned MP3s in its embryonic stages. We hear the gospel-inflections of 'One Fine Day' and the unintelligible warbling of Byrne wrestling around syntax in search of melody. It's a very open moment on the DVD which betrays the sense of mystery that often tailgates the creative process of influential artists (often as it's self-imposed).

When he's not advocating the use of bicycles or popping up in dim-witted Sean Penn vehicles (2012's This Must Be the Place - a movie I paid money to see, regrettably), Byrne somehow finds time to 'pass MP3s back and forth' with a number of people. In 2010 he did so with Norman Cook on Here Lies Love, a typically abstruse piece based on First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos. More recently Byrne has swapped audio files with Annie Clark, AKA St Vincent for the groove-laden Love This Giant.

Any misgivings one might feel about two deliciously talented musicians as bedfellows creating anything other than something wholly disappointing are assuredly swept aside with opener 'Who'. Byrne indulges in some onomatopoeic grunts amid the Mulatu Astatke horns which dominate the track. By the final 'HUH!' I dare anybody not to be completely submitted to the staccato funk of Byrne and Clark.

Brass is the ubiquitous and interesting theme of the record. The project itself came from the pair's second meeting at the Housing Works bookstore in Brooklyn, where Bjork was scheduled to play with Dirty Projectors. When the idea of a collaboration was floated to Byrne and Clark, they immediately gave thought to instruments; over a three year period both thought a great deal about horns. The arrangements are complex, as on 'Dinner for Two' where the trumpets sit atop an irresistible funk beat with Byrne's distinctive wail augmented by Clark's crystalline harmonies.

Duties are clearly shared, imbuing songs like 'The Forest Awakes', where Clark takes the lead, with a thrilling looseness. The sense of shared ideas is energising to the listener, so one can only imagine the rejuvenating qualities this partnership had on its constituent parts. "Most of the excitement came when things got to a point where I'd go, 'This is nothing like anything I would've come up with alone.' It's the whole point of collaboration," says Byrne, in fact.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that a record featuring two of music's hippest performers with a 16-piece brass section would be a painfully indulgent mess. However, with tracks like 'I Am an Ape' and 'The One Who Broke Your Heart', Byrne and Clark craft some of the most uplifting pop songs of recent memory. This makes Love This Giant a complete delight, typifying what has become so iconic about David Byrne himself; no, not the big suits and shock-white hair - the ability to be artful yet accessible.

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