St Vincent-Strange Mercy

 There’s been a lot of hubbub over the summer about this new record from Annie Clark. Of course, I didn’t know what anyone was talking about, because when I heard the name, I assumed they were talking about the actress Annie Clarke from Degrassi. Hopefully that falls in the category of “So lame it’s cool,” but whatever. I love Degrassi. Sue me.

I’ve never been a fan of St Vincent‘s. The first record, Marry Me, bored me to tears and I never bothered to pick up Actor. I heard one of the songs off of Strange Mercy on some website a while ago and decided I’d get it and give her another shot. As it turns out, I’m really glad I opted to listen, because there’s a lot of good stuff on here.

The first track, “Chloe In The Afternoon,” I assume is related to the Eric Rohmer morality tale of the same name. I haven’t seen that one, but I’ve seen “Chloe From 9 To 5,” and I have to say I didn’t find it all that great. Same wtih the track. Some decent background music, but lyrically it falls flat and the atmosphere doesn’t quite grab me.

The second track is quite the opposite. “Cruel” is kind of brilliant in that it meanders for a while in this kind of ethereal netherland where Clark’s voice just guides you through to the light. And then there’s this explosion of funky bass lines and synths that is the epitome of cool. The song just keeps building on itself until about three quarters through when the production and vocals reach a perfect harmony that keeps going til the end.

When I first heard St Vincent, back in 2007 or so, I thought of it as kind of a lame Feist knockoff. With Strange Mercy Clark has moved beyond that by a good margin. If I had to describe it now, it would be more like a mix of Passion Pit and Fiona Apple as produced by Air. Clark’s voice is so much more confident and strong than it was before, and the album seems to play with a clearer vision of what it wants to do. Actually, to compare it to another great album that came out this year, I would say if you enjoyed The Antlers Burst Apart, you’ll dig this.

There are a couple instances where the album gets bogged down a bit. “Champagne Year” is a song toward the end that I really do like, but it’s too slow. The song’s message is good, but the execution is a bit poor. Her line “I make a living telling people what they want to hear, it’s not a killing but enough to keep the cobwebs clear” pretty much saves the song from being a complete miss.

“Hysterical Strength” enjoys this bizarre “Barracuda” synth line under the whole thing that I think is cool and kinda funny. The lyrics for this one start off well, but they get worse as the clock keeps moving. Clark seems to be channeling Judy Garland a bit on this one, but maybe that’s just me (oh man, a Degrassi reference and a Judy Garland reference in the same piece-so long street cred).

The closing track, “Year of the Tiger,” might be my second favorite after “Cruel.” It’s fairly straightforward for most of the song, but it breaks down after the second verse into a bluesy, native american beat (maybe reminiscent of “Indian Reservation” by Paul Revere and the Raiders) and Clark begins singing “O America Can I owe you one.” It seems like it would be out of place, but Strange Mercy is a pretty eclectic album with influences from all over the place.

I’m surprised to find myself really liking this record after loathing St Vincent for so long. I guess it proves that you can never count anyone out entirely. Strange Mercy came out last week, so it’s available now on iTunes. If you liked Clark before, this shouldn’t change your opinion. If, like me, you didn’t, then give this a shot. It’ll be worth your time.

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