Annie Clarke/St. Vincent has always been a favourite of mine; her distinct vocal styles and baroque pop stylings seem so unique and utterly beautiful that you’re often left wondering why she isn’t even more popular than she is. Her magnificent 2009 album “Actor” was made up of songs with mainly dark lyrics sang to a brilliant fuzzy and melodic music. It was an album that experimented sonically and was unafraid of taking the listener down different routes. With the apparent lack of worry about alienating the listener with this risk taking, it’s really no surprise that she’s closely associated to the ever changing Sufjan Stevens.
Two years after “Actor” was released, St. Vincent’s back next month with “Strange Mercy” which it appears will up the ante on it’s predecessor (R&B horns! More Moog! Beck!). A few weeks ago the first single off the album, Surgeon, was available to download to fans who tweeted #strangemercy before becoming readily available on the album’s webpage.
I must admit being apprehensive whenever it comes to hearing the first few new releases by my favourite acts. There’s always the chance that they may mislead you in a way to dampen your excitement for their next album by projecting an unexpected sound that may not be representative (Granted, this can also be a good thing as in the case of the last LCD Soundsystem album). I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to hear the latest St. Vincent single because of this, but needless to say, I took the plunge and gave it a listen.
And it’s pretty much all I’ve listened to since.
Far more synth driven than most of the songs off of ‘Actor‘ (with the exception of Just the Same but Brand New), Surgeon is one of Clarke’s strongest singles yet. It’s intro alone is worthy of a degree of awe with multiple vocal tracks over a gentle synthetic backbone that simply wash over you, in the same vein as music from the chillwave genre. Clarke often has really strong intros with almost choral vocals sometimes thrown in there to compliment the aurally spectacular musical arrangements she’s devised.
Her lyrics maintain their brilliance, with some very well hidden allusions to a summer of sexual promiscuity, with an opening line as ambiguous as “I spent the summer on my back“. Combined with the sultry vocal delivery we’re so used to by Clarke and swooning instrumentals (as well as a well paced song that gradually becomes increasingly more frantic and fragmented) and you’ve got one of St. Vincent’s funkiest and intriguing works that’s based all around intercourse. Who knew she wasn’t coy.
All things considered, the quality of this single bodes well for ‘Stange Mercy’ as it shows that not only has Annie Clarke’s music not diminished in quality, but also advanced even further than her previous works. Expect a fine third album from a woman who continues to improve, change her sound and surpass her contemporaries.
Strange Mercy is out September 12th (here’s hoping it gets the amount of press and publicity it deserves). Until then, enjoy the free mp3 from the album’s site and these creepy virals promoting it.