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St. Vincent-Strange Mercy

September 14, 2011

NPR has been streaming St. Vincent’s upcoming release Strange Mercy for a little over a week, and I still pull it up almost every time I open my laptop. This may be due to the fact that I’ve never listened to a St. Vincent record before, but it could just be because the record is good.

From the first second, Annie Clark creates an aesthetic all her own with crunchy, heavy guitar sounds and cooky synth patches. Her somewhat unadorned voice rests easily over all of it, completing the formula for her sound. Often, the accompaniment is super sparse, which leaves plenty of space to be filled in by layers of catchy synth lines. Sometimes though, the space isn’t filled up at all, creating a kind of groove that feels risky and tense. It’s obvious that Clark isn’t afraid to take risks, as we can hear in  “Northern Lights,” which features tons of great, flat-out noise-making.

For me the best part about this record is the construction and arrangement of the tracks. Clark constantly teases us with a ridiculously catchy hook, only to cut it short. By the time it is revealed in full, later on, we want it so badly that it becomes transcendent. She plays with key centers, octaves, and other devices to similar effect; what we hear initially is taken to new heights by the end. When the groove finally drops at the end of “Surgeon,” it is exactly what we wanted, without knowing that we did.

For my money, “Cruel” is the best indie-pop song I’ve in years, and it points to good things in the future. Not all of this record lives up to its best tracks, but they set a pretty high standard indeed.

EDIT: After sitting with this album for a couple weeks, I have decided that it is flawless and wonderful. Undoubtedly one of the best, freshest things I’ve heard in some time.  Worth owning on vinyl. 

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