I suppose if you were one of those people whose introduction to this unique artist was her sophomore effort Actor, you probably fell in love with the edgy, intense march-like feel of Actor out of Work, or the impromptu distorted sax/guitar combo on Marrow. Either that or you turned it off immediately from the shear cacophony, but then later came back to it because you couldn't resist. When ever I listen to that record (and this one as well), I feel like I have to blast the loud parts to full volume, otherwise I don't get the same experience I got the first time.
This time, her quality-album-streak has continued with Strange Mercy. If you had to describe it based on sound, it's basically the same deal as Actor. Lots of fuzz, distortion, and of course, her lovely voice. There are a couple things that have changed, though. There are more electronic elements, and the drums are more prominent. The idea of more electronics might sound a little off-putting, but frankly they go brilliantly with the whole mix, especially on tracks like Cruel, Northern Lights, Champagne Year, and Dilettante.
My favorite track on Strange Mercy, by far, is Cheerleader. It opens acoustically with a beautiful melody, while Annie rolls out a few clever one-liners. "I've had good times with some bad guys, I've told whole lies with a half smile". After that, it's as if the four "I"s she sings are cracks being banged into the chorus, and then it just gives way and bursts open with overwhelming distortion, heavy beats, and synthy-goodness. This is definitely one of the best songs she's given us yet, if not the best.
The slow-going Surgeon is another superb number, with its playful guitar blips and shuffling drums. The random cheesy synth solo toward the end, though it spices up the track a bit, is pretty annoying to be honest. The title track, however, is a beautifully-crafted piece with drums that chug along, and a softly rolled out melody, but towards the end she turns up the amp and busts out the fuzz box, to my utter enjoyment. There are a couple tracks that I couldn't really get into, mainly Neutered Fruit, which is a bit too kooky and all over the place for my taste. Hysterical Strength is a pretty forgettable track which feels like a filler. Luckily the album concludes really well with Year of the Tiger.
Strange Mercy is an album filled with pleasurable grooves, blissful pop tunes, plenty of messy distortion, and of course, Annie Clark's endearing vocals. Yet her ability to blend all these elements together is just as outstanding as ever.
1. Chloe in the Afternoon
5. Northern Lights
6. Strange Mercy
7. Neutered Fruit
8. Champagne Year
10. Hysterical Strength
11. Year of the Tiger