2009’s Actor by St. Vincent was considered one of the best albums of that year as it gave singer/multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark in her St. Vincent moniker lots of attention. The critical acclaim and a notable TV appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and The Jimmy Kimmel Show helped raise attention as Clark was one of the darlings of the indie music scene. After a break and few appearances for soundtracks and Beck’s Record Club show for the INXS album Kick with Liars, Clark returns with her most daring record to date entitled Strange Mercy.
Produced by Annie Clark and John Congleton with songs written by Clark, Strange Mercy is an album that pulls away from the fantasy world of Actor into a more thrilling world full of various themes and emotions. With the music taking Clark into an array of noises and strange sounds with guitars and keyboards, Clark also takes more chances as a vocalist on the record. Lyrically, the album delves into the manic emotions about a woman trying to find her identity. The result is an adventurous yet dazzling album from St. Vincent.
Opening the album is Chloe in the Afternoon that is led by swirling organs, fuzzy guitars, sputtering mid-tempo beats, and Annie Clark’s angelic wail. Featuring abstract lyrics filled with moments of anguish, it’s an opener that doesn’t play nice despite Clark’s somber vocals. The album’s first single Cruel is bopping, mid-tempo track with flourishing keyboards, buzzed guitar melodies, and Clark’s serene vocals. The lyrics describes the song’s theme with its esoteric imagery as Clark adds a droning solo to create chaos to the song’s more somber tone. Cheerleader starts off as a folk ballad with a soft, scratchy acoustic guitar that becomes more menacing with its charging electric guitar and soft keyboards. Clark’s calm vocals play with the song’s differing emotions to describe the disappointments of the world as a woman stops being the cheerleader.
Surgeon is a serene ballad with slow, warbling beats that is followed by layers of keyboards ranging from funk-driven to soothing as the latter plays to Clark’s hypnotic vocals. With its simple yet fantasy-laden lyrics, it’s a song that is filled with quirks but also an atmospheric quality that is unique in its presentation. Northern Lights is a driving, mid-tempo rocker led by its swift, washy guitar, fuzzy bass, and bopping beats. Clark’s soothing vocals play to the song’s ethereal tone to describe its dreamy lyrics that is often followed by warbling guitar solos. The album’s title track is a slow yet enchanting track with a steady back beat, a backdrop of ambient synthesizers, and electronic-sound guitar melodies. Clark’s hypnotic vocals is a highlight as it serves to the song’s strange yet entrancing lyrics filled with literary references.
Neutered Fruit opens with layers of vocals that follows Clark’s calm yet robotic vocals that is followed by slow, walloping beats, low keyboard warbles, and spurting guitars. Featuring lyrics that describes a mysterious fruit with strange powers, the song includes elements of funk in its keyboards and slight tempo changes from slow to more pulsating for its chorus. The ballad Champagne Year is a soaring yet ambient-inspired cut led by its waves of synthesizers and Clark’s mesmerizing vocals. The dark yet dreamy lyrics adds to the song’s ethereal quality as it’s a real standout cut that crosses This Mortal Coil and latter-day Leonard Cohen. Dilettante is a slow yet steady down-tempo track with calm beats and buzzing guitar drones that is followed by warbling sounds of bass and keyboards. Clark’s vocals ranges from calm to serene to play up the song’s abstract yet narrative-driven lyrics about waiting for a man named Elijah.
Hysterical Strength starts off as an upbeat yet electronic-driven track with pulsating beats and wavy synthesizer drones that then becomes a slow yet calm track as the tempo moves back and forth to Clark’s soothing vocals. Featuring lyrics that describes madness in esoteric terms, it plays up to the song’s manic tone that includes a charging guitar track. The album closer is Year of the Tiger, a track with swirling synthesizers, washy acoustic guitars, and tempo changes as Clark sings coolly to the song’s theme of nostalgia. With tempos ranging from slow to a more menacing, mid-tempo range, it provides what the song needs to close the album.
Strange Mercy is an outstanding album from St. Vincent that features a superb yet textured production from Annie Clark and John Congleton. Fans of St. Vincent’s album will enjoy the album for its quirkiness as well as Clark’s willing to experiment and take more chances musically and lyrically. While it may not have as many upbeat tracks as Actor, the album does features Clark’s best performance as a vocalist so far. In the end, Strange Mercy is one of the most intoxicating albums of 2011 to come from one of indie music’s most talented artists in St. Vincent.
© thevoid99 2011