St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

Album Review by Mark Shukla | 26 Aug 2011
Album title: Strange Mercy
Artist: St. Vincent
Label: 4AD
Release date: 12 Sep

"I was going for something a bit more direct, more tactile" says Annie Clark of her third album, a collection themed around an investigation of "those kinds of more extreme emotions," predominantly the desire to find relief from pain, whether through delirium (Northern Lights), self-realisation (Cheerleader) or psycho-sexual catharsis (the anguished hip-hop spasms of Chloe in the Afternoon).

The main colours still come courtesy of Clark's voice and guitar (the fuzzed-out swagger of her previous LP, Actor, now augmented with many more introspective passages) but the decision to replace that album's ostentatious orchestral flourishes with woozily pitch-bent synth washes and expressive Minimoog workouts lends the album a surreal and intoxicating energy.

Eerie, hyper-edited choral samples haunt the mix on numerous tracks, whilst suggestive reverb artifacts sporadically play across the stereo field like a wintry breeze. Clark's vocals mirror this exacting strangeness, her delivery yielding variously to both seductive vulnerability and feverish agitation without surrendering entirely its veneer of stringency and control.

Neither as immediate nor as stylistically dazzling as its predecessor, Strange Mercy manages to succeed entirely on its own terms by dint of Clark's willingness to embrace her own idiosyncratic impulses, and in doing so, to reveal more of herself. [Mark Shukla]

Playing Stereo, Glasgow on 15 Nov