Review of St. Vincent's album Strange Mercy released through 4AD
Oklahoma born, Berklee drop out, former Polyphonic Spree member and latterly NYC Manhattan resident Annie Clark has packed quite a lot in to her first 28 years. Strange Mercy represents Annie's 3rd solo album to date, following on from her debut 'Marry Me' and her more successful sophomore album 'Actor'. On Strange Mercy Annie once again hooks up with Producer John Congleton. The results represent a definite leap forward as Strange Mercy is wrapped up with an air of confidence and an alluringly subversive decadence. The whole album not only sounds so completely comfortable in its own skin it begins to distort your own feelings towards it. I did not start off loving this album initially but it has well and truly won me over.
Strange Mercy may not be immediately accessible, it does take a few listens to appreciate its depth and quality. It is an album that reveals itself over time and builds to deliver a fabulously, sometimes mesmeric, highly individual soundscape that is both contemporary and relevant. Lyrically it is darker than its musical arrangement may lead you to believe but that only helps to intensify the overall experience and challenge the listeners primary concepts. Strange Mercy is an Avant-Garde album seamlessly straddling Indie, Electro and high end Pop with consummate ease.
The opening track 'Chloe In The Afternoon' starts the album off with a whirr of synthy keys and scuzzy guitar set to the fabulously emotive high vocal of Annie Clark. The more bouncy, overtly pop tones, of 'Cruel' are next up before one of the album highlights 'Cheerleader'. Here Annie teases us with melancholy and menace, setting sweeping arrangements around troubled angst and inferred alienation.....
"I've had good times with some bad guys,
I've told whole lies with the half smile,
held your bare bones with my clothes on......
.....but I don't wanna be a cheerleader no more,
I, I don't want to be a dirt eater no more,"
The James Bond theme like entry to 'Surgeon', with its catchy looping electro hooks, takes us down a more subdued and reflective path before 'Northern Lights' picks up the tempo with an almost girly Brit-Pop vibe. The vocal is akin to EchoBelly's Sonya Madan and the driving rhythms and screaming keyboard and guitars deliver an unexpectedly thunderous cacophony of unrestrained pleasure. The title track pairs things back as Annie's voice shows its more sensitive and seductive side with an initially more minimal and unobtrusive arrangement that slowly builds to reflect her frustration. By comparison, and out of character, 'Neutered Fruit' is a little off the mark but Strange Mercy returns to blistering form on 'Champagne Year' and 'Dilettante'. With an 'Vienna' like drum machine beat and sultry vocal on the former and fabulously lazily meandering arrangement and Jean Jacques bass line on the latter Annie and her band show how creative they have been on SM.
Talking Heads rhythms skip along on the penultimate track 'Hysterical Strength' and then the reminiscence of 'Year of the Tiger' closes out the 11 track set.
With Strange Mercy St Vincent have certainly come of age as a band. The songs are all fully formed, well written, terrifically played individual multi-faceted numbers produced and crafted with great care and skill. There are few low points on the album but those that there are can be quickly forgiven and forgotten as there are many more memorable songs, arrangements and passages that only seem to get better upon each listen.
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