We love the idea of collaborations. When you start creating music you have no co-ordinates to follow to get good results – as Sam Beckett said famously, you fail, then fail better. You slowly but surely establish your safe options: ways of expressing up and down, soft and harsh, things you can depend on. But it’s this very surety that eventually undermines you. Caricature is your assassin. And it’s what blights so much music these days that such clear co-ordinates to expression are so freely given as advice to younger musicians (in the myriad wannabe tv shows) or carved out by the industry itself (in the form of genre definitions).
But then you have the collaboration. A zone where competition and dialogue can crack egos. By relaxing from your fighting stance you remember how it felt at the start.
So how does this album fare in this ’rediscovery of the self’? Opener Who describes for us the blueprint of this album: quirky time signatures, a mix of loops and funky raw brass parps, and pass the baton style duets. We like it, it’s falling somewhere between the late 80s art pop of The Creatures and the cock eyed folk of Tune-Yards. You can certainly see what each party has brought to show and tell. Two obviously great voices, with Byrne supplying the out of control uncle’s relish for Cuban and African textures, and St Vincent injecting us hypodermically with the edgy and intimate. It’s a good team, although we’re not sure if either is trying much different to their solo work.
Weekend In The Dust is a soul punch in the face, whilst The Forest Awakes romps through an assault course of trombone stabs. Lightning fits a dawning sense of dread over shiny fragments of massed saxes. When it works it’s brilliant.
Refreshing too, to have a bunch of left field ideas underscored by such slick production values. Not since Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz have we heard this phenomenon. We like it when the intelligent wrest the memes of production from the majors. We just wish Byrne wouldn’t lean so heavily upon tracking all his vocals up – he’s being too protective of what is still an electric larynx.
It doesn’t all grip. Sometimes the balance is wrong, just too safe – like on The One Who Broke Your Heart -which could belong on the later Talking Heads albums. And the hymnal Optimist may as well be slung on the closing credits of any Hollywood blockbuster.
Ultimately though we think this album contains some unique ideas, and hey, lack of consistency is a badge of honour in the world of the art popster. One to revisit over the coming months we think.