St. Vincent - Strange Mercy | Album review
Guitar heroine’s latest for 4AD piles on the artifice.
For Annie Clark, the studio is a playground, a bottomless toolbox to burrow in and root around. Once the Dallas native and NYC transplant’s unearthed just the right shade or tone, she drapes it behind eerily cryptic lyrics. Her ambitious art-pop aspires to be clever, catchy and, above all, original. The tunes on Strange Mercy, her third album as St. Vincent, sound as labored-over as anything aiming for the Billboard charts, but Clark buries each hook in a tangle of artifice.
In these meticulously pieced-together three- to four-minute mini epics, each note is considered. But what saves it from being pretentious postmodern indie is the delicious contrast between her breathy vocals and warped guitar, as on the Broadway-worthy “Cruel.” Despite her dry, affectless aesthetic, Clark gleefully steps into each character. “Cheerleader” sways with woozy synths and Clark’s sublime delivery. “Best finest surgeon / Come cut me open,” she coos on “Surgeon,” sourcing Marilyn Monroe’s diary, of all things, before delivering a fluorescent synth solo over stuttering electro-funk that could’ve been pulled from Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein.”
Though radically different in presentation, Clark and Monroe share a fondness for playing coy. Thankfully, the enigmatic guitar heroine’s tongue-in-cheek confections remain as fun to dissect as they are to devour.
St. Vincent visits Metro Wednesday 5.