After releasing Marry Me and Actor, Annie Clark has taken the St. Vincent moniker to the highest level of indie rock superstardom. In my eyes (forever objective and eternally astute in regard to M. Clark), her music is more rewarding than Sufjan Stevens over the past few years, and it was in his band that she got her start. Her new release, Strange Mercy, is exactly what you would expect: quirky, lavish, sweeping, sparse and fueled by a nervous energy.
Her albums have always seemed to be defined by contrasting impulses, but Strange Mercy is aided by a more fluid production. So where her first two albums could sound rough around the edges, Strange Mercy maintains a clean, sharp snap throughout its run. The places where this is naturally most evident are the many spots where the songs go haywire with noise and sonic flourishes. The usual fuzz of feedback reaches a level of warmth that simply wasn’t on Marry Me or Actor.
“Chloe in the Afternoon” starts the record off with an industrial edge: strong guitar riffs, syncopated drum beats and a healthy dose of studio noodling. The three song run of “Cruel,” “Cheerleader” and “Surgeon” is absolutely killer, so I have no doubt that somewhere in there is the spot that one who hasn’t heard St. Vincent gets hooked (and yes, all her stuff is basically that good, so her two previous albums are worth grabbing!). “Northern Lights” sounds pleasantly reminiscent to “Actor Out of Work” from her last album, so it’s a great transition from the three song run that is so good it could derail a lesser album. “Strange Mercy” slows things down and ushers in the second half of the album. “Neutered Fruit,” “Dilettante” and the closing “Year of the Tiger” are other highlights.
In short, Strange Mercy is a fantastic record that should be prominently placed on most year-end polls. You can order it here. If you enjoy Sufjan Stevens or the Dirty Projectors, you should give Strange Mercy a go!