St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (2011)

Strange Mercy marks something of a departure in style for St. Vincent. It is a foray into guitar-drenched melancholy, with thrumming hooks peeking around every corner, at times (pleasantly) surprising in their abruptness. With more energy and seemingly more confidence than her past efforts, Annie Clark’s powerful, evocative voice is on full display here, lending emotional heft throughout.

Haunted by deliciously catchy electric guitar on nearly every track, this album is difficult to escape. It demands repeat listens. Memorable early songs like “Surgeon” and “Cruel” will stick with you long after listening. The title track is the sort of indie pop ballad we’ve come to expect from St. Vincent, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is maybe the only song on the album that does not feel quite as fresh, as newly imagined, as the rest.

As it moves forward, the songs become progressively less radio friendly and perhaps slightly mellower. “I make a living / telling people what they want to hear,” croons St. Vincent on “Champagne Year,” a slow, atmospheric track lacking the buzzing guitars that populate most of the rest of the album. It all ends with “Year of the Tiger,” which serves as a fitting capstone, wrapping things up with a lavishly dense, emotionally charged finale.

The Verdict: A unique and memorable album. Highly recommended.

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