Album Review

Strange Mercy

Strange Mercy

by St Vincent


4AD
9 / 10
12th September 2011

Reviewed by Brannavan Gnanalingam


For a remarkably seamless album, Strange Mercy sounds like it has been constructed on the fly. Guitars squeal from behind the corner, crescendos or disco beats jostle with each, or songs shift without warning. Annie Clark AKA St Vincent’s latest album, Strange Mercy, is a shift forward in her songwriting – it’s at some parts disquieting and threatening, at others completely joyful. It’s also so unpredictable, that it’s an album that could probably be heard over and over again.

The album seems to traverse so many genres and influences, it’s a surprise that it came together as well as it did. It’s a headphone album at its best. ‘Chloe in the Afternoon’ shows off OK Computer-y rhythm work and Clark’s guitar-playing, the latter in particular standing out throughout the album. It’s an unusual opener as a song – though it sets the tone well. ‘Cruel’ is a super-catchy messy disco, a pop song hidden underneath layers and layers of things trying to hide the melody. The loud/soft dynamics and jaded lyrics scream early ‘90s grunge in ‘Cheerleader’, whereas Surgeon has a hazy, dreamy feel – until the insistent loops and Prince-like solo takes over. ‘Northern Lights’ is a great wee pop song, with a tortured vocal performance and excellent guitar work, with a great crescendo ramping up the tension.

The mid-section of the album has a bit of a lull – the title track is a little too cold, and uninspiring, and it was only when ‘Neuter’ took off half-way through, that some momentum was restarted. ‘Champagne’ is a beautiful moment of self-doubt, Clark’s almost naked voice (relative to the rest of the album) floats around the seemingly all-consuming musical arrangement. The album finishes strongly: the chaotic music of ‘Dilettante’ almost tries to defeat the self-control expressed in Clark’s vocal performance, ‘Hysterical Strength’ is more great dance-y fuzz-pop, while the cooing and snarling of ‘Year of the Tiger’ finishes the album off as it started. It’s not an easy album to listen to, nor will it win over people who are after a bit more warmth in their music – but the fascinating and ultimately exciting Strange Mercy confirms Clark as a major talent.






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