Vivascene rating 9.0
As the album title would suggest, Strange Mercy deals in paradoxes (see “Hysterical Strength”) and the unexpected (I won’t ruin any surprises). St. Vincent puts the range in strange; darling Disney-like sonics pair with amp-wrecking guitar, and Annie Clark’s demure soprano goes from dainty to destructive, from syrupy to sneering. She creates a familiar seduction – one we’ve come to expect after her debut solo album Marry Me and follow-up show-stealer Actor. Her lyrical naivety is spot-on; her mercurial taunts and her playing dumb juxtapose perfectly with the sporadic and cerebral instrumentals, maintaining the cinematic quality of her previous work.
I-I-I-I-I don’t want to be your cheerleader no more
“Surgeon” begins with Clark’s monochromatic cooing of what sounds like the high-octave violins from the orchestra of John Barry’s “You Only Live Twice” – a striking beginning layering absurdist-keyboarding, a tidal of off-keyed instrumentals and disco-like syncopated electric bass.
“Strange Mercy”, the ballad-sounding title track (which deals in a fair amount of threats) is a perfect example of how Clark takes sounds typically identified with a time-period (here it’s the synth-bass sound in, found in such 80’s hits as “Take My Breath Away”) and transforms them into something that repels genre – a life all their own. There’s no point trying to diagnose if her guitar has Tourette’s or not – this chick can shred.
Watch “Cruel” here:
Clark repeats some of the same devices that made Actor so successful, like in “Northern Lights” when she builds initial tempo with quick percussion, much in the same way as “Actor Out of Work” – and it still has the same, startling effect. This is an artist who knows what signature sounds to retain, without ever threatening to sound recycled. Tracks like “Neutered Fruit” and “Dilettante” with their intrepid, Hendrix-worthy riffs, sound like a jam session gone so, so right. The thick, buzzy guitar is going to sound so good (!) on vinyl.
Lowlights? There are none. I’m not gonna go all pitchfork on your ass and nitpick without proper cause. Annie Clark is a woman with vision; her self-possession and growth as an artist has resulted in a third studio album that’s simply textbook. She’s pushed all the right boundaries, challenged herself and her audience and it’s a total – beautiful, satisfying – trip.