St. Vincent St. VincentStrange Mercy
4ADAnnie Clark's career is skyrocketing, one of the most unstoppable in the recent history of American indie music. Before starting her solo adventure as St. Vincent, she developed her sound in prestigious bands like The Polyphonic Spree and with Sufjan Stevens. From a background singer she became a new icon, an extremely talented and irresistibly enchanting girl. Her first album, “Marry Me”, showed it, with a collection of beautiful and intoxicating songs. The follow-up, “Actor”, improved her concept, adding fire, to critical acclaim. This third album, “Strange Mercy”, wanted to redefine “the idea of the guitar hero, utilizing the instrument as a pointillist artist might wield a brush”. Something which, at the time, didn't sound overly ambitious. Clark already showed her guitar skills are more than excellent, both solo and with band. In fact, recently she played tracks by Big Black and Tom Waits live, quite the declaration of intent.
“Strange Mercy” starts masterfully with “Chloe In The Afternoon”, a song featuring all the trademark St. Vincent ingredients: exquisite arrangements, unforgettable guitar riffs, the sweet and at the same time desperate voice of Clark, some sinister background vocals and keys that give the tune an electronic air, an apparent nod to “The Age Of Adz” by her old brother in arms Sufjan Stevens. The synths return on the surprising disco-funk song “Hysterical Strength” - another identifying mark which stays intact here and on the better part of the album. When you think that on “Neutered Fruit” nothing's going to happen - that the song is going to go on without any changes of rhythm, without highs or lows - the heavenly vocals appear, the rattling percussion and the aggressive guitar, and you realise Annie's done it again. She is to indie what Hitchcock was to film, the queen of suspense. Because it's clear that what makes this lady a modern genius is her unique ability to make her compositions unpredictable. Hers is a constant game of mutations, contrasts and crescendos.
But it's not all grandiloquent here. More or less halfway through the album are the weaker and more predictable songs. Maybe because she didn't feel like exploring her more visceral side and wanted to return to the classic song structures of her debut, like on “Champagne Year” and “Dilettante". But up until the introspective “Strange Mercy” there's substance. Here, the guitar doesn't bite, it caresses, while Clark sings one of the strongest lyrics on the album: “If I ever meet the dirty policeman who roughed you up”. Lyrically, other great moments are “Cheerleader”, on which she talks about her past and confesses: “I’ve had good times with some bad guys” and “I-I-I-I I don’t wanna be a cheerleader no more”; and the shiny closing track, “Year Of The Tiger”, with that catchy “Oh, America, can I owe you one?”.So if we thought that with “Actor Out Of Work” and “Marrow”, St. Vincent had reached her peak, we had another thing coming. For this record she made two marvellous masterpieces. “Cruel” has a disco base and is embellished with typical Disney melodies and vintage background vocals that seem taken from a fifties musical, in constant dialogue with that paintbrush guitar that has just finished a Chagall painting. In its turn, “Surgeon” is a true marvel, a style exercise on which Annie Clark shows off her guitar skills; resulting in a frantic climax of noise and distortion that is almost improper for a fine lady like her. But that's “Strange Mercy” for you: a game of contrasts.
Álvaro García Montoliu