Sunday, September 11, 2011

St.Vincent, Goddess — "Strange Mercy": A

Annie Clark, who more or less is St.Vincent, strives at making music that remains reminiscent of her prior material. Take her performance at Our Band Could Be Your Life tribute concert where she covered Big Black’s “Kerosene”: dressed all in black, Clark shoved her typically maudlin-cool persona into the backseat and let a Jekyll-version of herself steer the song with a crackled, barking intensity. It would have almost been scary if wasn’t so damn fucking cool. But the thing about her performance was, even though she was covering someone, Clark was still completely herself; it was just a different side to her, which is something Clark fully capitalizes on in her third album “Strange Mercy.”
Part of Clark’s classic approach in the past rests in contrasting distinct sounds and ideas in her songs, and “Strange Mercy” takes that one step further by way of the record approach, which is to say there are two distinct sides to “Strange Mercy”: side one, a buzzing portrait of frantic intensity swooning with funk-texturized guitar solos (“Cruel”), falsetto crooning  and layered looping that rings of classic Brian Eno (“Surgeon”); and side two, a slightly-more gentle string of songs that’s power lies with the taught, eerie anxiety that makes them hit with a greater resonance than side one.   

And with the first listen, the divergence is so great it almost seems Clark should have been broken the album into two separate EPs, but the as the album marches towards the end, it becomes apparent that the two sides are completely complimentary. They are two different sides of the same coin, each presenting the different highs and lows that make Clark St.Vincent. The “White Light/White Heat” styled climax to side one ender “Northern Lights” marks the hysterical panic of an emotional break-through/breakdown whereas the Jeff Buckley-esque “Champagne Year” of side two gives a unnerving sneak into the truthfulness of Clark’s lyrics as she whispers to the listener “I make a living at telling people what they want to hear.”
The synthesis of the entire album, though, lies with the last track “Year Of The Tiger” which takes the best of both worlds — the creeping lyricism with Clark’s balls to the wall funk guitar — and smashes them together for one short peak at the future of St. Vincent music. It’s odd that an artist would provoke a desire for even more material with the release of a brand new album, but that’s exactly the kind of thing Annie Clark would do; and as she chants “Oh America, can I owe you one?” on the dauntingly short culmination to the closer, all the listener can really say is, “Yes, you can owe us one” and wait for her next album. It’s a strange mercy. 
Side One: Chloe In The Afternoon, Cruel, Cheerleader, Surgeon, Northern Lights.
Side Two: Strange Mercy, Neutered Fruit, Champagne Year, Dilettante, Hysterical Strength, Year Of The Tiger
Joel Samson Berntsen (Actor Out Of Work - St.Vincent)