x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

St Vincent: Strange Mercy

Annie Clark proceeds fearlessly through her third and latest album -- which is more than can be said for the intrepid listener.

Strange Mercy
4ad Records

Some music is made for simply enjoying and experiencing; it goes straight to the heart and leaves you feeling uplifted or moved. St Vincent - otherwise known as the multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark - does not make that kind of music.

Her third outing, Strange Mercy, is even more disturbing than her previous two - this from a woman who made her name working with the most fey of the fey: Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens.

There are times, listening to the album, when you simply have to leave the room, make a cup of tea, take a deep breath and plunge back in. At the best moments she sounds like Beth Gibbons, and her deep, crackling arrangements certainly owe something to Portishead's 1994 trip-hop breakthrough, Dummy. Less enjoyable moments evoke an out-of-control Kate Bush - wailing, shrill and painfully so.

The gentle intros - in Chloe in the Afternoon, for example, or Surgeon - give way to vicious, hacked-together arrangements, every space filled with sound and noise. Surgeon's final few minutes feature a synth improvisation of Prince-like proportions, a total departure from the fuzzy, home-made sound that pervades the majority of the album.

Through the show-tune strings and deceptively jaunty guitar riff of Cruel and the ethereal sadness of Cheerleader to the disco dissonance of Hysterical Strength, Clark proceeds fearlessly - which is more than can be said for the intrepid listener.