St. Vincent | Strange Mercy

4AD (2011)
By ZETH LUNDY  |  September 13, 2011
3.0 3.0 Stars


The pretty/ugly dichotomy at the heart of Annie Clark's St. Vincent moniker is in full tug-of-war on her third and most challenging full-length. Clark's fragile, Siouxsie-esque voice contrasts sharply with her thorny, provocative guitar, and Strange Mercy is truly honey-on-sandpaper stuff. On songs like the nimble "Cruel," with its misshapen showtune asides, and the nearly funky "Neutered Fruit," that contrast is beguiling. Other tunes — like the pounding "Northern Lights" and early-Prince headtrip "Hysterical Strength" — are more confrontational. As a whole, Strange Mercy is slower and denser than Clark's stellar second album, Actor, and loaded with more compulsive repetition. Choruses are not so much choruses as near-melodic mantras: "I, I, I, I/I don't want to be a cheerleader no more," she sings in album standout "Cheerleader," a hand knocking on a door. Likewise, the title of "Chloe in the Afternoon" becomes its simple broken-record refrain. It's post-punk dream-pop catharsis, with all the good and bad that that implies, sometimes frantically interrupted by a fuzz-toned, quick-drawn six-string. Sonically, the album is rich and inventive, if at times a noisy cluster. Fleetwood-style dead drums, big-sky synths, and a guitar that cuts closer to avant-jazz than indie rock provide the lush backdrop for a collection of songs about the deceptions in human interaction. Knotty and enigmatic as it is, Strange Mercy becomes more intriguing the more you listen to it — even if that means you also get further away from comprehending its idiosyncrasy.
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