ST. VINCENT | Strange Mercy

September 5, 2011 at 3:12 am 2 comments

By David D. Robbins Jr. | Their Bated Breath
Album: St. Vincent “Strange Mercy” (2011)
Release date: Sept 13

The strength of Annie Clark’s music, from 2003’s “Ratsliveonnoevilstar” to her newest release as St. Vincent, “Strange Mercy” (2011), rests largely on one thing: Her ability to combine strange and harsh elements with beautiful ones. On “Marry Me” (2007) and “Actor” (2009), she blended Disney-like flutes, melodic and sensually conscious arrangements, with abrasive guitar and ambiguity. What makes St. Vincent’s music so intriguing is that much of it is always fighting itself. The dazzlingly pretty parts are tempered by Clark’s endless creativity for harmonic discord. She scuffed-up the luxurious cinematic landscape of “Marrow” with odd lyricism, cataloging body parts like a medical student, connecting them to human actions, then ending the opening verses with a clever allusion to sex and the Tin-Man in the “Wizard of Oz”: “Muscle connects to the bone / Bone to the ire and the marrow / I wish I had a gentle mind / And a spine made up of iron / Mouth connects to the teeth / Teeth to the loves and the curses / Honey, can you reach the spot that need oiling and fixing?”

This time you’ll find Clark back at the operating table, begging in her new palatial single “Surgeon”, “Best finest surgeon / Come cut me open.” In some degree, the best artists, whatever the medium, are always cutting people open, exploring their inner workings. But that only partially explains her music. It’s also a love for cinema, books and a fascination for combustibility in relationships that fuels the St. Vincent fire. It’s no wonder Clark opens the record with a song named after one of Eric Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales”, “Chloe In The Afternoon”, because that film combines two of those elements. The movie is an exquisitely-filmed psychological story about extra-marital temptation and true love. St. Vincent’s “Chloe In The Afternoon” begins with candied-synthesized organ and a cinematic flourish that sparkles like sequence. It runs headlong into buzzsaw guitar, hard-thumping drums, and a strange fluttering vocal distortion. “Cruel” mixes the beauty and the beast in St. Vincent at an almost absurd tilt. Fantastic and outlandish melodies swirl into a pop-pretty, laptop symphonic delight. Lush L’s unfurl from Clark’s mouth, enunciating words like, “casually”, “cruel”, “alleys”, “leave”, “left”, with a deliciousness of tongue. It’s so over-the-top with its adorning ambrosia of strings and sumptuously upbeat keyboard, that it bubbles-over like wonderful parody, becoming uncontrollably beautiful in the process. It’s the equivalent of watching the gorgeous eye-candy of Douglas Sirk’s melodramatic marvel “Written On the Wind” or the wild Technicolor of “Magnificent Obsession”. “Cruel” tosses the silk-boa back and lets go. It shreds in red, outrageous palettes of bright fuchsia, blood orange, sunny yellows, deep browns, and glinting greens.

The slow-building “Cheerleader” combines familiar Clark lyricism about a string of bad relationships and the frustration of being placed in an unwanted role: “I’ve had good times with some bad guys / I told whole lies / With a half-smile / Held your bare bones with my clothes on / I’ve thrown rocks, then hid both my arms / I don’t know what good it serves / Pouring my purse in the dirt / But I don’t wanna be your cheerleader anymore.” It also contains another verse, “I’ve seen America with no clothes on”, that seems to shadow a line written by Allen Ginsberg in “America”. (As far as the lyrics can be heard.) Northern Lights” is St. Vincent’s chance to rock hard, the song swelling into a chaotic, noisy texture of coarse choppy guitar, pounding high-hats, maracas, and electrified high-pitched squeaks. It’s a dynamite arrangement.

There’s a natural desire for listeners to try and read the artist into the work. But St. Vincent is so adept at writing personal songs that feel more universal than confessional. “Neutered Fruit” is one of the most hypnotically elegant tracks on “Strange Mercy”. It begins with light overlapping choral harmonies, like the entering of sacred ground. A bluesy electric guitar unwinds behind a complex shifting of pace and rhythm, a graceful lyrical refrain explodes into a celestial frenzy around a verse assessing a relationship: “Did you ever really stare at me? Did you ever really care for me … like I cared for you?” “Champagne Year” continues this more confessional side of St. Vincent. It’s the most straight-forward track, and a sublime change of pace, dark and brooding — a heartbeat drum and deep guitar melting into industrial noise and open space. “Dilettante” is a playful dalliance, with a “Bennie and the Jets” kinda strut, prancing its way with scuzzy guitar and Clark’s most velvety vocals. “Hysterical Strength” feels a bit like a throwaway. St. Vincent ends the record with “Year of the Tiger”. Despite the song’s clunky Indian-warpath musical refrain, lyrically it sounds like an Andrew Bird song, containing some of Clark’s more pointed verses. They take aim at another type of dilettante, who measures life by knowing the best in Italian shoes and keeping up with the Joneses: “I have to be the best of the bourgeoisie / My whole kingdom for a cup of coffee.”

Sure, Clark has become a critic’s darling, like PJ Harvey and Radiohead before her, but not without reason. St. Vincent’s music feels as if it’s always aching to be. These are songs with multiple pathways of progression, in love with the process of making music. “Strange Mercy” is just one stage in the continuing evolution of St. Vincent. At its most visionary moments, it’s luxuriating, flaunting, extravagant, lush, strange, and passionate. Some may find it indulgent and straining. But it’s never boring. In three official albums, Clark has fused a fine line of music that melds a dichotomy: One half is made of dreamy essence and lithe fantasy, the other a clamor of creative technologically-based explosion and serrated eccentricity. “Strange Mercy” is alien and of the earth. It’s the best of both worlds. Note: Read a Their Bated Breath feature-length piece called “A Savage Beauty”, about the career of Annie Clark going back to her college days. Artwork for this post is based on a photo by photographer Tommy Kearns. As usual, all lyrics are unofficial.
St. Vincent “Surgeon”

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

About these ads

Entry filed under: St. Vincent. Tags: .

BRAIDS | Peach Wedding ZOLA JESUS | Seekir

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John Doolittle  |  September 6, 2011 at 8:27 am

    Great review; we really feel your love for her work.

    Reply
    • 2. daviddrobbins  |  September 14, 2011 at 10:59 am

      Thanks so much for the comment/nice words.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE

2014: Good Listens …

  • • Warpaint "Warpaint"
  • ANY CHARACTER HERE
  • • Cibo Matto "Hotel Valentine"
  • ANY CHARACTER HERE
  • • Sharon Van Etten "Are We There"
  • ANY CHARACTER HERE

    TBB Twitter Links & Videos

    Their Bated Breath Archive

    Recent Bated Breath posts

    Guilt-Free Downloading Site

    This is a guilt-free listening zone. We've built relationships with bands, artists, labels and PR firms to give you the best in new music. All songs on this site are sent to Their Bated Breath directly from the artists, their PR firms, their record labels, or are available via stream. Thanks so much to all of them. It's important to me that nothing posted here take away anything from the artists. Enjoy. -- David.

    2013: Good Listens …

  • • Mark Mulcahy: "Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You"
  • ANY CHARACTER HERE
  • • Rivka: "Faded"
  • ANY CHARACTER HERE
  • • David Bowie: "The Next Day"
  • ANY CHARACTER HERE
  • • Savages: "Silence Yourself"
  • ANY CHARACTER HERE
  • • Butterclock: "First Prom EP"
  • ANY CHARACTER HERE
  • • FTHRSN: "Middle School Swag"
  • ANY CHARACTER HERE
  • • The Removalists: "Semi-Professional"
  • Stop SOPA
    ANY CHARACTER HERE

    %d bloggers like this: