Lavin Rant: St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy


by Mike Lavin


St. Vincent – Strange Mercy [4AD; 2011]

The third album is easily a defining moment for any artist in his or her career. The debut is unexpected, the sophomore reveals what tenacity the artist has, but the third will truly tests her strength and how good a musician she  really is. Strange Mercy is that defining third album for the rambunctious Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent. Clark started her career with Marry Me, a fairly unknown debut that isn’t as well received as her second effort Actor . From that, Clark picked up momentum and confidence to craft together Strange Mercy, which feels  light-years ahead of her past works.

Strange Mercy is expansive, unique, filled with emotions, and an overall refreshing listen. With a very crafty and edgy feel to the overall sound of Strange Mercy, Clark can do nothing wrong in creating very bombastic, rough music that still has a baroque, clean  approach to it with Clark’s crystal clear vocals that reverberate with beauty.  Then there are the guitars. Clark’s skill with a guitar is truly showcased on Strange Mercy, especially with its uniqueness on guitar solos where bizarre effects are added to create this attention-grabbing flare to them.

As intricate as Strange Mercy may be, casual listeners can relate. Clark’s uncanny ability to expose the different layers to her music without going to complex is remarkable. Nothing is too “out there” in experimentation, but there is still that feeling of Clark pushing boundaries that are satisfying to reach. The overall theme and consistent sound of Strange Mercy is hard to simply explain; in retrospective, it’s a collection of songs that explore different elements of music in each song. “Cruel” has a nostalgic hook that sounds almost like a ‘20s ballroom theme, and “Surgeon” has heavy synthesizers sinisterly lying under Clark’s wistful vocals with the ending of a groovy synth freak-out. “Neutered Fruit” has an excellent submission of a very shrill choir to create an air of dissonance that sounds quite satisfying.

Really, you can’t just explain Clark’s tunes with a couple of smart-sounding explanations because they are so ever-changing with swelling emotions bordering on insanity, yet she manages to stay on the safe side. The third album crutch that many artist encounters is truly surpassed by Clark with Strange Mercy, but the real question is where can Clark go now? The progression of Clark’s musicianship is ultimately the rise of a true musician. Album number four can only go upward from here.