Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In Which I Review St. Vincent's "Strange Mercy"

Technically this album came out two years ago, but since I've only just discovered it, I think some reviewing is in order. This is probably going to become a regular thing here on le blog where I just review some favorites and whatnot. Something to keep my writing.

So St. Vincent, stage name of Annie Clark and her rotating backing band, have been around since about 2007, when debut album "Marry Me" was released. Then in 2009 came "Actor". And then in 2011 "Strange Mercy" was released, which is what I'm writing on here.

"Strange Mercy" is one of the most unique albums I've listened to, and is quickly working it's way into my top ten list. There are weird guitar sounds, string arrangements (but not in the cheesy way), gloriously abstract lyrics, and some amazing musicianship going on here. I gather more admiration for this band every time I listen to this masterpiece.

So bullet list? Bullet list.

1. I love Annie's guitar work on this album. The riff during the chorus in Surgeon is especially intricate, as well as the ongoing riff and disturbing first solo in Cruel, lead single from the album. The coolest thing is that no matter how complicated the guitar work gets, it doesn't take away from the music, like a lot of the stereotypical "shredders" out there. It's not just about the guitar, although it does take a spotlight most of the time.

2. The lyrics are quite excellent, and vague enough to be applied to just about any situation. Some favorites are from Champagne Year, Cruel, Cheerleader, Surgeon, Strange Mercy, and Dilettante. Particularly the opening lines of Champagne Year ("So I thought I'd learned my lesson/but I secretly expected/a choir at the shore and confetti through the falling air") or Cheerleader ("I've played dumb when I knew better/tried too hard just to be clever"). There's a witty lyricism at work here, but also a lot of depth and understanding of weird situations. There's a sense of loneliness too, which comes from how the  material was written. But either way it's absolutely marvelous.

3. Strings and synthesizers abound on Strange  Mercy, and they're used excellently. I'm especially fond of the fuzzy sounds on Year of the Tiger, the album's closing track that's a slight deviation from the rest of the sounds on the album. The effects on the guitars, marimba, and string section on Cruel add a lot too. And then Northern Lights comes along with sparse, almost punk-like, instrumentation and little more than a snare drum and some guitar with biting vocals and blows the whole thing to pieces. It's genius if you think about it.

So yeah, go listen to this album. And check out the rest of the St. Vincent catalog too, because it's amazing the range and depth this band go to to make good music.

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