Friday, May 11, 2012

STRANGE MERCY - St. Vincent (2011)

For three albums now, St. Vincent's Annie Clark, the one-time Polyphonic Spree/Sufjan Stevens band member, has been slowly honing in on a singular sound, a bizarre stylistic combination that pairs her love of old orchestral Disney songs with what she calls "gnarly guitar."

It's a seemingly impossible marriage of styles, a diametrically opposed merge of beauty and noise, and to date, I feel she's only intermittently succeeded at pulling it off.

But if anyone can bring this blend to fruition, it's Clark.

Armed with an angel's voice, exceptional talent as an ironic lyricist, and master level chops on multiple instruments...she doesn't always hit the mark, but when she does, watch out.

In her first two flawed but fascinating releases, Marry Me and Actor, the juxtaposition of styles worked more side by side, song to song...a primarily orchestral number here, followed by a clear rocker there, followed by a breezy jazz number with deceptively dark lyrics.  But with Actor, especially on tracks like Marrow, you could feel Clark coming to terms with how she wanted to marry these elements within a single song.

With Strange Mercy, the stylistic marriage feels complete.

The orchestral and jazzy arrangements and those vicious guitar runs feel compressed onto each other tighter than ever, striking harsher and crazier, struggling to find a way to co-exist at every turn.

The end result is a dynamic, combustible, exceptionally bold album that has earned many high ranking inclusions on a number of 2011 year end best lists.

But however perfected this stylistic juxtaposition may now be for Clark, it's still only works in fits and starts for me, and I feel the frustration more on Strange Mercy than either of St. Vincent's prior two releases.

For every number like Cruel or Strange Mercy that hypnotically pulls me in, there's a twisting, slicing track like Dilettante or Chloe In The Afternoon or Cheerleader that I respect but just can't bring myself to love.

So color me confused by Strange Mercy.

It's an ambitious, highly intelligent album that will give aggressive listeners plenty to absorb, but for me, though I'm impressed by all of it, I have to admit I only enjoy about half of it.

Status: Solid Recommend.

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Cruel, Surgeon, Northern Lights, Strange Mercy.

Here's the official video for Cruel.

Component Breakdown:
1. Chloe In The Afternoon - 7
2. Cruel - 9
3. Cheerleader - 7
4. Surgeon - 8
5. Northern Lights - 8
6. Strange Mercy - 8
7. Neutered Fruit - 7
8. Champagne Year - 8
9. Dilettante - 6
10. Hysterical Strength - 7
11. Year Of The Tiger - 7
Intangibles - Average
Listen on Spotify/Purchase on I-Tunes

What are your thoughts on St. Vincent's Strange Mercy? Let readers know!

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