MERCY ME by Thomas Callhan
September 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
by Thomas Callahan
They could take or leave you, so they took you and they left you. This is one of those lines that I hear and feel compelled to slap my forehead for having not written myself. It appears in the second verse of the song Cruel by St. Vincent, a bizarrely upbeat lamentation of the disposable manner in which the youth observe friendship. Think No Surprises, which is a perfect example of a song that melodically sweetens the desperate, anxiety ridden message that the lyrics convey.
The latest album by St. Vincent, the stage name chosen by singer Annie Clark, is entitled Strange Mercy. Top to bottom, it is a stunner. I remember really digging the song Laughing With A Mouth Of Blood, from her last release, Actor. There must have been a cluster of new music that I was trying to take in around that time and I foolishly allowed St. Vincent to slip through the cracks in my mind. Fortunately, this new record has commanded my total attention for a few weeks now. It is gorgeous. It’s a sonic oddity for sure. Clark is a guitar prodigy that prefers to absolutely saturate her riffs in effects, often resulting in sounds that are difficult to identify as being made with strings. To me, Strange Mercy sounds a bit like Debby Harry singing for Tortoise.
My favorite song on the record is Surgeon, which I have obsessively been watching live clips of on Youtube. The chorus features an incredibly complex and repetitive guitar line that resembles a record being sped up and slowed down. I had to see it performed by Clark to believe it was her freakishly long fingers that were actually playing it. And it was. There’s a slow, breathy plea for the best, finest surgeon to come cut her open beautifully sung on top it. The combination is hypnotic.
Annie Clark has spent time in both the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Steven’s band. The latter really shows. Though her songwriting style is unique, the ability to retain the slightest, welcome pop sensibility while manipulating tones and time signatures is familiar. The Age of Adz by Stevens was my favorite album of 2010 and all signs point to Strange Mercy being my 2011 pick. As far as I am concerned, this is the future of music.St. Vincent deserves to be mentioned alongside artists such as James Blake, Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, and Flying Lotus, artists that attach a thin tether to the songwriting rules of the past and stretch it to capacity. These are the new pioneers, and I’m loving their campfire songs.
Listen to SURGEON by ST. VINCENT
Read more from THOMAS CALLAHAN