Strange Mercy – St. Vincent

There’s a beauty in sounding broken. These days no one can touch St. Vincent’s Annie Clark when it comes to sounding simultaneously ethereal and mentally wrecked. Strange Mercy finds St. Vincent more sonically twisted than ever; still searching for a calm clarity in this mad, mad world.

Themes of feeling unloved and neglected dominate the album. Downtrodden lyrics abound, like those found on “Cruel”: “They could take you or leave you. So they took you. Then they left you. How could they be so casually cruel?” “Neutered Fruit” finds Clark questioning “Did you ever really stare at me? Like I stared at you.” But that’s not to say St. Vincent simply plays the victim. When pushed, like on “Cheerleader,” Clark’s tongue can be as defiantly cutting and vicious as it is insecure and vulnerable, declaring “I-I-I-I-I don’t want to be your cheerleader no more.”

Music supporting Clark’s vocals on Strange Mercy is a full-fledged wall of chaotic electronic fuzz. While these moments spotted previous St. Vincent albums, they’re consistent here. Lush orchestrations still pop up now and then, but they’re usually momentary; like on the intro to “Cruel,” before the song suddenly shifts into a thumping, club-worthy dance track.

While the heavy dose electronic reverb gives the album a distinctive feel, it’s a tad overkill. The stylistic contrast from track to track isn’t as strong as it could be. On St. Vincent’s previous effort, Actor, the songs conveyed a narrative arc of a slow decent into darkness. With each passing tune, the pristine princess Clark embodied came apart at the seams and mentally unraveled. Strange Mercy doesn’t quite reach Actor‘s level in part because these songs start and say on a consistent plane.

Strange Mercy is best summed up by Clark’s begging to be cut open on “Surgeon.” It may seem like the ravings of a chemically unbalanced individual, but in reality it’s pleading for someone to cut past her lovely exterior, open her up, and let the real person (and her gorgeous music) pour out.

Review Score: 8.3

*Expanded from a review in The Pacific Northwest Inlander*

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