Friday, September 23, 2011

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy (2011)

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I became acquainted with St. Vincent about a year ago when I went to see tUnE-yArDs at Central Park Summerstage; completely indifferent to the fact that St. Vincent was the headliner. After witnessing her rousing live show, I decided to give her a real shot and have since bonded with 2009’s Actor after many extensive listens. So when news of a new album started to emerge I got incredibly excited; couple that with a pretty awesome promo campaign via Twitter, the revealing of the brilliant first single “Surgeon”, and an absolutely incredible article in Under the Radar and I was expecting the best album of the year in Strange Mercy.

For me, Strange Mercy was a definite grower. There are enough great ideas that it’s not quite a disappointment but the strongest songs on the album are those that we’ve already been introduced to before i.e. “Surgeon” and “Cruel”. The other songs require a certain amount of patient listening before you realize they're not just random throwaway songs. It would be easy for Clark to hide behind her big guitar licks or her pretty, shimmering vocals but this time out they’re tinged with enough real emotion – real hurt and real feeling – that you want to put in the work to understand them and that’s where the random line that makes it all make sense presents itself. In this Clark has created an album that compelling enough for multiple listens, despite the fact that not all the songs merit endless replays. Clark’s more emotionally intense tracks “Cheerleader” and “Strange Mercy” require way more effort than fast-paced jaunts “Chloe in the Afternoon”, “Northern Lights”, and “Hysterical Strength” while “Neutered Fruit” and “Year of the Tiger” only need about one focused listen before you get the point.

While Strange Mercy disposes of some of the aspects listeners might have loved about Annie Clark, it also introduces them to a side of her they’ve never seen before. Gone is the grand cinematic scope of Actor, the wry lyrical wit of Marry Me, and Clark’s flippant presentation of some rather dark subjects. Instead we gain a newfound intimacy that’s personal but not claustrophobic juxtaposed with the lovely melodies and coarse musical moments of St. Vincent past all contained within one complex, intricate tangle. Though every song on Strange Mercy isn’t exactly a masterpiece, they all stick to the overall idea of displaying a rawer, open Clark and the album as a whole definitely benefits from it.

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