A Strange, Merciful, Shredding Woman
Annie Clark is one of the most talented young women in music. The soon-to-be 29-year-old’s third LP Strange Mercy is as brilliant as her sophomore effort, Actor, and perhaps outshines it in certain aspects. This record shows growth and sophistication, the Dallas-born multi-instrumentalist in complete control. Her arrangements are meticulously composed, but the boldest sign of maturity on this record is her vocal performance. These 11 songs are not all hits. Some are slow burners—dark, varying tempos, surprise solos, jarring crescendoes, and always subtly fascinating lyricism.
The two songs that seem to be singles are “Surgeon,” a track she released after a Twitter campaign, and “Cruel,” the album’s first video and recent David Letterman performance. “Cruel” is a twisted but blisteringly fun tune with an infectious drum beat and irresistible organ and guitar solos that are bouncy and bright. She also stretches out “Run the alleys, casually” in the first verse, one of several moments where she sings so low, nearly breathlessly, that you’d think she’d drop the note. She never does. Here, and especially in “Champagne Year,” she puts on a vocal show. She has a massive range and can gently, deeply utter a lyric with feeling and then take it high and loud in the same breath.
“I spent the summer on my back,” Clark sings at the beginning of “Surgeon.” On “Cheerleader” she cries, “I don’t wanna be a cheerleader no more / I don’t wanna be a dirt eater no more.” And in “Champagne Year” she begins, “I make a living telling people what they want to hear / It’s not a killing but it’s enough to keep the cobwebs clear.” There’s real darkness here, and a listener could fascinate themselves with the narratives she’s hinting at; sometimes she seems to be singing as a character, but like in the last lyric, you get the sense that she’s letting us into her life. She’s questioning herself as an artist, reflecting skeptically on her past and nervous about the future.
The most powerful albums always seem to be the ones that reveal more and more through frequent listens. And it’s impressive that she’s done that here, but even more so when you consider the fact that she’s a renaissance woman in the studio. She can play everything and writes completely solo. Watching her shred with a band behind her on stage is an uplifting moment for feminists and fans of genuine, modest brilliance. The fantastic Asian-themed closer, “The Year of the Tiger,” contains a telling moment in its great, colorful lyrics: “When I was young, coach called me the tiger / I always had a knack with the danger.” With Strange Mercy, St. Vincent is marked as a heavy hitter in the musical world and will certainly top some Best Of The Year lists.