St. Vincent: Cruel creation

Cruel creation

Annie Clark: "I think this album is more human than my previous - less controlled, more emotional and less cold"
Photo: Tina Tyrell

If the true measure of a creative product is whether or not it addresses the fundamental truths of its time, than St. Vincent's Annie Clark is eerily on point with her latest album, Strange Mercy

Strange Mercy brims with lyrics about information overload, personal disconnectedness, sexual frustration, inescapable ennui and the paralysis of one’s self existing in the personal vacuum left by a world rapidly on the move. Notwithstanding the heavy content, it’s also a deeply enjoyable album, if not somewhat of a slow creeper – one rich in well-crafted melodies, harmonies, unique beats and contemplative moods. In fact, the initial beauty of the work lies precisely in the textures of guitar, spiky funk and unfettered rhythms Annie Clark uses, whereas the long-player appeal is certainly the relationship between this framework and the rather weighty themes it houses.

"I guess I’ve always been pretty fascinated with that duality we so often find of a really beautiful thing mixed with a brutal thing," says Clark, reached over the phone in Dallas, Texas. "The first song I wrote was Strange Mercy and that couple of words summed up a lot of what I have been trying to do musically over the past couple years. We have all these murky situations between people, strange mercies. I think a lot of people would love it if someone would come in and fix their fatal flaw."

From the outset, Clark grapples with opposites: The second track, Cruel, opens with an orchestral placidity before a sharp 4/4 bass and crunchy guitar accompanies Clark’s lines "Forgive the kids, for they don’t know how to live/ run the alleys, casually cruel/ cruel, cruel" – imagery applicable to a year full of tragic stories of teenage bullying and suicides. Sounding spookily similar to Alanis Morissette, Clark’s delivery of the title song Strange Mercy could function as a commentary on Occupy movements and allegations of police heavy-handedness through the lines "If I ever meet that dirty policeman who roughed you up / No I don’t know what," while Dilettante‘s "Oh Elijah, don’t make me wait/ nobody’s winning/ the sharks are swimming/ in the red" directly references end-of-the-world scenarios found in the Hebrew Bible. It’s all heavy stuff, but Clark believes Strange Mercy accesses a commonality among people.

"I was alone [in Seattle] making this album," explains Clark, "and I think the great thing about that, and about not being beholden to technology – even so far as not checking the text messages on your cellphone is… Basically, I think for a long time I hadn’t really gone below a certain level of thought."

"All of my thought processes had been interrupted on a surface level, like ‘What am I doing today? What thing am I reading now?’ Kind of a real ADD approach to living. But once I was able to remove those aspects, I could see things more clearly. There is a point in the creative process that isn’t really sexy or glamorous, but it’s that moment where you’ve been working on something for seven hours and you think it isn’t going anywhere and then you finally hit on something. It’s the kind of thing that only cruelly happens after you’ve been staring blankly at something for a long time. I think it’s a more meditative state, a deeper level of creative consciousness. There is a synthesis that happens that I don’t think happens when you’re constantly distracted. I think this album is more human than my previous – less controlled, more emotional and less cold."

St. Vincent
w/ Cold Specks
At Théâtre Corona
December 17

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