St. Vincent’s new album, Strange Mercy, beautifully balances Annie Clark’s beautiful, sultry voice with bouts of instrumental rage, punctuated distorted guitar and lyrics that are equally dark and fretful. Strange Mercy rises and falls wonderfully, drawing you into the center of the narrator’s world before giving yourself over to controlled chaos. The album is irrepressibly catchy in parts (especially, the ironically bouncy, “Cruel”), but they never feel empty.
“Cruel”, the album’s first single, cascades along a sea of rumbling synthesizers, juxtaposed with a wailing guitar that is delightfully topped off by Clark’s question, “How could they be casually cruel?” The whole song works wonderfully as a rollicking pop song, but few songs this catchy would ask questions like “Bodies, can’t you see what everybody wants from you?”
“Cheerleader”, which follows, is even better. The song starts off with a quiet acoustic guitar as Clark sings, “I’ve had good times / with some bad guys”. Then at the chorus the song erupts into wonderful staccato noise as Clark sings, “But I-I-I-I-I don’t want to be a cheerleader no more”, her voice one with the building liberation of the music.
Another highlight is the title track, “Strange Mercy”, a song about a son seperated from his father who is in jail. Lines like “Oh little one your Hemingway jawline looks just like his” and “Oh little one, I’d tell you good news that I don’t believe / If it would help you sleep”, beautifully paint the heart-wrenching situation in fine detail.
Strange Mercy is filled with characters who are seemingly stuck—paralyzed—by their situation, but the music knows exactly where to go. It holds these fragile people and encircles them, even as the noise rises and distortion prevails. Clark sings with a hint of true anger and frustration, and it comes through in her sketches of characters that seem pained and authentic.