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St. Vincent shows ‘strange mercy’ on new album

Flickr/guuskrol

Annie Clark’s third album, “Strange Mercy,” released under her stage name, St. Vincent, seamlessly combines the mysterious sounds of her melodic voice and rough guitar to create a unique but pleasant sensation that will flow through the listener’s body creating chills of amazement.

St. Vincent’s last two albums, “Actor” and “Marry Me,” were equally as filled with beautiful songs that paid attention to detail, but “Strange Mercy” includes that and so much more. Clark is not afraid to take huge risks and synthesize together sounds that are in completely different families. The new experimentation works to create a concoction of slow and smooth elegant singing with the fierce and intricate power of loud drums, brash electric guitar, wobbly keyboard and even a hint of synthesizer.

Every song makes a strong effort to create a sense of deep warmth and passionate meaning. At times, the songs can be about romance or heartbreak, but there are several deeper storytelling songs supporting the album. In each song, she uses repetition in her lyrics, singing the words or phrases over and over creating a hypnotic rhythm that is difficult to escape. The music is serious and demanding yet serene and thought-provoking at the same time.

The song “Cheerleader” exemplifies all of these features effortlessly. It starts off slow and pretty like a typical St. Vincent song, with lyrics like: “I’ve had good times with some bad guys. I’ve told whole lies with a half smile.” Then very suddenly during the chorus, the intensity of the coarse electric guitars come in with Clark’s sweet but demanding voice repeating: “I-I-I-I-I don’t want to be a cheerleader no more.” It finally switches back after the chorus into the relaxing tones, however not lingering there too much without adding in more excitement and adrenaline-pumped sounds.

“Northern Lights” is another unique song that incorporates the musical equivalent to a contortionist. It starts out light-hearted with a typical drum beat and guitar riff accompanied with Clark’s sweet singing voice. With the repetition of “I saw the morning northern lights,” it progressively eases its way into a creepier and graver tone, but quickly switches back to the light heartedness. Finally, similar to the raunchiness of Karen O’s voice of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the music playing in the background of Clark’s deeply soothing voice starts to get a more rustic texture, with a crispier and sandier guitar that just complements the upbeat beginning with organized insanity.

Other similarities that can be found are with Grizzly Bear or Sufjan Stevens. Grizzly Bear and St. Vincent also shares analogous musical qualities with Grizzly Bear and Sufjan Stevens in that they are all very warm yet expansive. However, what makes “Strange Mercy” distinctive is its use of brittle experimental twists within that soft music.

Before the release of “Strange Mercy,” four teaser trailers were made to introduce the album’s proclamation, and they can be found at strangemercy.com. They are four very different 30-second videos, the first being about friendship, the second about feline parents, the third about sex and the final one about being anything a person can dream of. Each of these seems very random on its own, and even when put together, however, the fourth teaser trailer gives a bit of foreshadowing insight into the album, explaining that it is all up for individual interpretation: “You can be anything you want when you grow up. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

In an interview with NPR, Clark said: “I think in some ways, it can do a listener a disservice to explain a song. I think I’d rather leave a little room for people to put themselves in it.” She revealed that 2010 was a difficult time for her personally, and though she does let her music connect with this it is more so meant to be expressed through the somewhat creepy and futuristic sounds. Clark likes the music to speak for itself without any previous attachments.

The album ends with the song “Year of the Tiger.” It has a mood that will generate chills of nostalgia of each emotion Clark brings forth in her new and extremely successful albu., whether it be fear, comfort, sadness, excitement. It is a mellow and soft, perfect to end the album and wrap it up with a hint of jovial folk sounds, but, in addition, still a deep sense of passion.

The crisp and clear reverberations of this powerful album “Strange Mercy,” are mixed together in quite a strange way, however, when coming from St. Vincent, the stranger it is, the more comprehensively beautiful it is.

Sapna Contractor can be reached at sapna@student.umass.edu.

 

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