St. Vincent finds middle ground in Strange Mercy

Eli Watson

Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, has grown considerably since her first album. Lending her talents to eclectic acts such as The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, Clark has displayed an interesting transformation over the course of her short career. From the poppy Marry Me to the intricate and dark Actor, Clark continues to push the boundaries while finding a suitable middle ground in her latest album, Strange Mercy.

With assistance from producer John Congleton, Strange Mercy channels the pop sensibilities and creative compositions from Clark’s past albums, resulting in arrangements that are filled with searing guitar work and analog keyboards. “Chloe in the Afternoon” opens up with noisy, buzzing guitar, while fuzzy synths provide a base for the many layers of melodies. Clark’s vocals are beautifully haunting: They become one with the many instruments present, adding to the complexity of the song’s arrangement.

“Cheerleader” and its repetitious “I” delivers with conviction Clark’s frustration teetering on an edge of counter-melodies and thumping, mechanical drums. “Surgeon” is a psychedelic-soul hybrid; the riff that Clark plays in the chorus shows how she can make something so unconventional sound hip, and the Brian Eno-sounding synth solo at the end wails with an art-rock bravado.

The title song is beautiful with the strange, eerie atmosphere it creates. It plays like Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” the tension building as Clark sings about revenge to the “policeman” that hurt someone close to her.

St. Vincent is demented, but she cleverly veils that with a bubbly demeanor. Her sweet, seductive voice conveys a message of violence and frustration disguised behind alluring imagery, creating lyrics with a full-force blow. Not all songs are masterpieces though. “Champagne Year” is stagnant, with no real significant changes occurring until the very end and “Hysterical Strength” is all over the place: Unlike the other songs on the album, there is no fluidity and its spontaneous placement of distorted vocals and grungy guitars is overwhelming.

Strange Mercy is an eclectic package. Clark carries herself like Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, her voice soft and vulnerable, but peppered with an array of emotions. The album shows Clark’s evolution as an artist and proves that Clark is an unpredictable character.