Annie Clark's St. Vincent moniker is a bold, constantly-evolving, ever-surprising character. In just the past five years, both of her albums—2007's generally reserved Marry Me
, 2009's beautifully feisty Actor
—have spawned awe, mystery, inspiration, and above all else, probed the nagging question: what will she do next? What is she capable of?
After her exquisitely versatile sophomore album two years ago, it was clear that Clark could just about do anything she put her mind to. Actor
was striking in all the right places: it was dreamily poppy one second and nightmarishly dark the next—her vocals pure and uplifting, the guitars she handled manic and piercing.
St. Vincent's Strange Mercy
doesn't stray too far from where that record resides, yet there's a marked growth in her creativity and determination to be an artist unbridled by her ambitions, and one with a naturally occurring gene for the type of unpredictable inventiveness that makes listeners insatiable. Whereas the Actor might have left listeners a little shell-shocked from its sometimes abrasive nature, Strange Mercy
, though still bursting with sharp, screaming guitar-work and unruly arrangements, packs a bit more of Marry Me's tenderness into its folds.
She hasn't she lost her ability to instantly command attention, but the colder parts aren't as icy per se and there's more of an exposed vulnerability. For example, opener "Chloe in the Afternoon," features dizzying whizzing sound effects and pounding synths in the background, amidst Clark's crystal clear, polished vocals—it's the perfect way to start the album declaring that she hasn't ditched her gutsy self. But tracks like "Cruel" and "Cheerleader," though every bit as captivating and titillating, steer the listener in a slightly different direction. "Cruel" at times sounds as whimsical as any cute fairy tale theme song, while oddly enough openly discussing bodies, sex and carnal desires. On "Cheerleader," Clark reveals her inner struggle and admits her own contradictions. She acknowledges that she has good times with bad guys, smiles her way through lies, but that she "don't wanna be your cheerleader no more."
The sheer acknowledgement of this internal battle and the way she juxtaposes it in her own music—the heavenly choruses beside the the twisted thoughts—is powerful and like a big step up from Actor
's persona. It all feels more real, more warm-blooded and hearty. She's every bit as creative, shameless, entertaining and talented as she's always been, but the added element of awareness (however metaphysical that sounds) seems to take Strange Mercy
to another level.
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