St. Vincent Review: Strange Mercy

St. Vincent

Strange Mercy

Judging on looks alone, Annie Clark looks about as fierce as a mouse. Clark, who goes by the musical moniker St. Vincent, is short in stature, with cute, modest features, and the sort of sweet curly black hair that brings to mind a more innocent time. But as clichéd as it is, appearances can be deceiving, which couldn’t be more of the case when it comes to Ms. Clark.

While on the surface, St. Vincent’s voice is beautiful in a very theatrical way, her music suggests something foul is brewing underneath. On her shining debut, Marry Me, this was displayed a little more subtly with the occasional minor key or distorted guitar on her otherwise tender, quirky ballads, but on her second album, Actor, the darkness began to bubble up with tons of distorted guitar and dark lyrical undertones, especially on album standouts “The Strangers” and “Marrow”. Now, on her latest release and finest album to date, Strange Mercy, the grunginess can no longer be tamed behind the sweet veneer and has become fully realized, creating some brilliant results.

“Choe In The Afternoon” makes for an remarkably claustrophobic opening with its spacy atmospherics and off-kilter fuzz guitar, sounding like Bjork hiding out from robot zombies. Annie Clark spent time in the touring bands for both cultish pop collective Polyphonic Spree and folk prodigy Sufjan Stevens, but now more than ever, she sounds ready to take center stage. “Cheerleader” suggests just that, with Clark angstily announcing “I don’t want to be a Cheeleader no more”, confidently over punching guitars and deep moog synths.

Strange Mercy serves as a coming out party of sorts for St. Vincent as a creative artist, but more so as a guitar player. While it was clear before that Clark had a wonderful instrument in her voice, some of the guitar riffs and solos on Strange Mercy are, for lack of a better term, just flat-out gnarly. On “Surgeon”, over a heavy distorted bass and a wall of synths, Clark’s chorus riff creeps like bugs climbing the walls, climaxing with a synthesizer freak out equipped with enough bleeps and bloops that it could have been a leftover on Sufjan’s Age of Adz. “Northern Lights” builds maniacally until it hits an absolutely riotous solo that sounds like the unruly shredding on Radiohead’s “Bodysnatchers”. On the title track, Clark soulfully harmonizes her guitar with her tender singing as she attempts grace before losing her cool with her guitar, turning rough and ugly. Her wild, unconventional guitar play emotes an incredible range of feeling, placing her in an elite group of female guitarists today.
While Strange Mercy is first and foremost a noise rock album, it is sneaky funky beneath all the madness. First single “Cruel” is fairy tale meets noise rock meets rollicking disco as the song starts off like Snow White waking from a nightmare but slowly gets a spring in its step, especially on its shimmering bridge that calls to mind Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”. “Dilettante” has Clark strutting her stuff in a boisterous parade of brazen guitars, synths, and saxophones. “Hysterical Strength” gallops into your consciousness, but proves again under all the deafening noise, that Clark has a gift for fashioning some unforgettable pop melodies.

With Strange Mercy, St. Vincent has crafted such wildly creative music that remains planted in classic pop song structures that few others have done with such brilliance. Strange Mercy is a loud, thrilling pop ride with serious bite, making it one of the best albums of 2011.

9.5/11

Can’t Miss: “Dilettante”, “Northern Lights”, “Surgeon”

Can’t Hit: None

To see the full review, go to RELEVANT Magazine.

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Author: Wes

Hoosier. Writer. Music Buff. Media Man. Tourist. Polar Bear.

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