What an interesting year for women in pop this has been. I'm the first to admit my collection has an appalling under-representation of the fairer sex in its contents, but it thrills me that, so far, three of this year's strongest albums have all been the work of women. First, Lily Allen released the best strictly-pop album of the year with It's Not Me, It's You, which is still wonderful. Then, Yeah Yeah Yeahs released It's Blitz! Now, we have Actor, an album from an artist I have never heard of, St. Vincent. The first time I listened to this album, the musicality of it all escaped me, for reasons I don't know. The immediacy of the melody on opener "The Strangers" is so striking and wonderful that I can't understand how I missed it the first time through. It opens beautifully, with a strong melody and pretty underpinnings, only to have the whole thing ripped away to make room for a heavily distorted guitar. This is a pattern that the album will follow, with moments of beauty torn apart by moments of controlled chaos.
It takes a listen, apparently, but it's addicting. I listened to this album four times in a row the second time I listened to it, and it demanded more. No album has done that since The Good, The Bad, and the Queen came out three years ago, which, from me, is high praise. Actor is unlike anything I've ever listened to, at once beautiful while still challenging, and still operating in the broader umbrella of pop. Those who throw away the Pop umbrella lose my attention. Those who learn how to operate in their own corner of it tend to gain my greatest affections. St. Vincent is way out there on the fringe, but she knows exactly how to stay under cover. This may end up being the year's best album.