Clemency from the Church of St. Vincent

by Phoebe Magee


This past weekend marked the final string of performances of the U.S. leg of St Vincent’s Strange Mercy tour and Mercy us, is BUST glad to have made it to one of the shows.

For those who haven’t given it a listen yet, Strange Mercy is the album St Vincent (otherwise known as Annie Clark) describes as the one in which she is finally relenting to her more artless instincts in an effort to reveal the more candid side of her artistic self.  In order to arrive at so honest a manifestation, Annie sets up each song on Strange Mercy like a musical confession booth, the foundations of which, once inside, she shakes until the structure caves in on itself.  Instrumentally, she does this by way of borrowing sounds of the church–varying hues of choir and organ,  echos from the eves of the cathedral ceiling–and then bending said holy auditory trinity to fit the scores of heathen genres (funk, r & b, punk, etc).  Once this sound structure is established, Annie blackens it all with distortion-heavy guitar solos, turbulent song interventions that seem to signal the arrival of her wits end with the pressures of keeping up studied artistic appearances (cue collapse of the musical confession booth). 

Lyrically, Annie uses the musical confessionals she builds (to destroy) to narrate the ultimately fruitless plights of taking on various ill-fitting, supporting roles in both her emotional and artistic lives.  What is interesting about these roles (especially as far as BUST is concerned) is that many of them hail straight from the suburbs of conventional lady stereotypes. The album’s opening track is a fractured portrait of a businessman’s afternoon delight mistress, mid-routine.  The song “Surgeon” explores the shiftless head space of Monroe-era drug-benumbed desperate housewife.  The song “Cheerleader” is an ode to the tremendously fatiguing female tendency to spur on loved ones without a prayer for gratitude.  The songs “Cruel” (see music video) and “Strange Mercy” are about mothers who don’t make the cut in one way or another. Vocally, Annie deftly traces the emotional trajectories of these all too rarely aired female experiences.  Her singing starts at the ground zero of submission and serenity, soars abruptly to octaves singular to the apex of manic episodes, and then comes out the other side at some sort of ambiguous-timbred reconciliation of the two extremes, what one might assume to be the musical materialization of Annie’s gift of strange mercy (to herself and to all the ladies who know these feelings)

Below is a video from this weekend’s St. Vincent performance featuring Annie Clark in the middle of having one of my favorite musical manic episodes from Strange Mercy.  Annie, if you are reading this, please don’t stay in Europe for too long. 

[video: 425×344]

–Maggie Beauvais, BUST’s Girl in the Field

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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