@review BUDDY PINNEO
St. Vincent: Strange Mercy
RELEASED: September 13, 2011
Lately, anyone appearing in song claims the title “artist.” Not to throw cold water, but this is a lofty aspiration of ascension.
And not to get biblical, but St. Vincent has ascended.
This one-woman, multi-instrumental, sonic stylist is on her way to being called an artist in a way that’s decidedly reassuring.
Her style has been described as “a mixture of chamber rock, pop, indie rock, and cabaret jazz.” Strange Mercy puts the cabaret front and center.
With “Chloe In The Afternoon,” she’s almost thumbing her nose at your ears with all the hiccupping rhythms, dissonant instrumentation and liberal use of electronic distortion. But it all serves as announcement for everything that follows – which is twistedly beautiful.
You are listening from within a kaleidoscope on a carnival ride for this entire album.
It’s as if Portishead’s Dummy has been combined with The Magnetic Fields’ Distortion. St. Vincent, aka Annie Erin Clark, is riding some kind of lightning.
The second track, “Cruel,” drives right down the street of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” in a way that’s simply gorgeous. Next up is “Cheerleader,” which is ‘90s-bleak in a being-used kind of way, but the chorus is absolutely defiant.
“Surgeon” opens so delicately that it feels like it would fly apart at the slightest nudge, but by the end you find yourself within a powerful dance track that will not disappoint.
“Northern Lights” is essentially punk in its aggressiveness and is endearingly pleading.
“Strange Mercy,” the title track, is almost buried in sixth position, and is almost obsessed with its own need not to be noticed. And yet, when she intones, “I’ll find the dirty policeman who roughed you up,” she’s coming to save you. And she really means it.
All of this said, the true heart and soul of Strange Mercy is “Champagne Year.” It’s almost a shocking moment to hear St. Vincent sing a very conventional and gorgeous melody, with precious little vocal effects. It’s a peek behind the curtain as she delivers the utterly disarming, hero-moment chorus of the entire album:“I make a livin’ telling people what they want to hear…and I tell you, it’s gonna be a champagne year.”
I can’t imagine, especially within this musical backdrop, of a more honest and arresting moment.
We don’t physically have the space here to detail everything about this album that is worthy of your ears, but suffice it said that on every single track St. Vincent gives you at least one thing to love. And these days, that is simply astounding.
Call her an artist if you must. No one will roll their eyes.
4 ½ Stars.