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CD review

Poise, power in truths laid bare

St. Vincent’s ‘Strange Mercy’

(Tina Tyrell)
By Carrie Battan
September 13, 2011

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On “Cheerleader,’’ from her new album, Annie Clark sings, “I don’t want to be your cheerleader no more.’’ As St. Vincent, Clark is three full-length records removed from her career as a side musician with the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens. The only thing she can be considered a cheerleader for these days is her own guitar.

More so than ever, Clark’s put on display her triumphant relationship with the instrument, and the result, “Strange Mercy,’’ is her strongest, fullest-bodied album yet. At times, she even shreds; a thick layer of distortion lies beneath “Chloe in the Afternoon’’ and returns frequently throughout the disc.

Because her songwriting chops are solid, Clark is able to successfully reconcile newer, harsher textures with the breathiness of her voice and many of the delicate, theatrical flourishes she likes so much. This is still a very pretty album.

“Strange Mercy’’ is also less of a lyrical exercise in creating characters than it is a straightforward expression of a spectrum of regret and resentment. Clark still creates dramatic narratives (“If I ever meet the dirty policeman who roughed you up/ I don’t know what,’’ she sings, on the verge of tears, on the title track), but she hits hardest when she’s laying herself bare.

And, from “Cheerleader’’: “I’ve seen America with no clothes on.’’ If only we could all grow better like Clark upon closer examination. (Out today)

ESSENTIAL “Cheerleader’’

St. Vincent performs at Royale on Nov. 4.