Another review we should have done months ago. St Vincent’s Annie Clark is a tiny woman with a huge musical imagination. Since hearing the dreamt up ‘Jazz-pop-chanson-theater music’ of her second album Actor (2009) I’ve been hooked. Her solo-performance last year in the Melkweg, as opening act to Grizly Bear was equally impressive, with a surprisingly fat overdriven guitar sound, that you expect from noise-pop acts like Sleigh Bells, but not from the Texan baroque multi-instrumentalist.
Clark’s third effort, titled Strange Mercy, is no less of a musical adventure than it’s predecessor. She fuses art folk, salon-melodies and electro-rock into a fascinating musical that is wonderfully intriguing and pleasant from the first until the last act. Although she’s one of the best experimental singer-songwriters out there, her real strength is in arranging her songs in a manner that is never conventional, but is almost always easy on the ear. With the ear of a DJ she manages to mix together instrumental tracks that seem to have come from totally unrelated genres. The only difference with a DJ is that Annie Clark composes and performs virtually every track herself.
The track Cruel was pre-released as a calling card to the new album. It’s a characteristic Clark song, with sugary vocals and synthy strings, that could be from a Disney soundtrack, supported by Italo-discobeat and sliced by a glam-guitar. Close to half of last century’s decennia are musically represented in that one song, that is at the same time indisputably ‘now’. Despite the many-sidedness of a song like Cruel, it seems that compared to Actor, Clark has chosen to spread out her many musical ideas more equally over the new record. On Actor the beginning of the album was so flamboyant that the milder tracks toward the end sort of snowed under. I hate using the phrase ‘balanced’ for an exorbitant piece of art like Strange Mercy, but it is certainly easier to listen to the album in one breath than was Actor.
On top of her skills as an arranger and a songwriter on Strange Mercy, Clark also reveals herself as a fine singer. Most notably on the album’s title track. The song’s verses she sings comforting and alluring, then during the chorus she sounds full of suppressed anxiety. Still, both times you feel she’s more contemplative than involved. Listening to Strange Mercy you get the feeling that Annie Clark is merely an observer of the sketches she’s pieced together. Incidently, this is also the way she likes to portrait herself in her video clips.
What makes Clark a bit odd is exactly what makes her music and lyrics so interesting. It’s the sort of soothing madness she shares with the likes of Björk, PJ Harvey and comeback girl, Kate Bush. It also partly explains why I initially misheard the lyrics of the chorus of Cheerleader as: ‘I-I-I don’t want to be chimney anymore.’ For a very small part.