Annie Clark is perfect. This is both infatuating and infuriating. On “Strange Mercy,” her third album as St. Vincent, she is still very comfortably more of the former. But the gap is starting to shrink.
After two albums of immaculate chamber-pop, the 28-year-old’s “Strange Mercy” offers more of the same, except this time even more lush and squeaky clean. It begins with a song whose title sounds like a French New Wave film (“Chloe in the Afternoon”), segues into the breezy disco gallop of “Cruel” and follows with “Cheerleader,” in which she alluringly whispers, “I’ve had good times / With some bad guys / I’ve told whole lies / With a half smile.” It’s all completely irresistible up until the point you want to smash it into a thousand pieces. But even then, it would surely congeal into the most beautiful mosaic ever.
Clark’s songs are deliberate and considered, notable both for the variety of sounds she employs — sudden strings, soft synths, all manner of electric guitar — and the structures she stuffs them into. Each is a mini-symphony that deftly balances the delicate with the rough. Her guitar playing is clinical, delivered with militaristic precision. Even when things get messy, it’s hard not to feel as though everything is exactly in its right place — the frenzied solo on “Northern Lights” sounds like a pixelated video game creation.
Closing track “Year of the Tiger” has the album’s loveliest vocal melody in the chorus, but it’s the way Clark seductively inhales between lines that’s just as memorable. There’s a fuzzy, guitar-driven surge and then a stately comedown. It’s another example of Clark elegantly tiptoeing her way through a perfectly adorned environment and wondering how awesome it might sound if she recklessly stomped around.
--David Malitz, Sept. 6, 2011